"A formulaic yet gratifying film, and a strong Hollywood debut for Espinosa..."
Scandinavian filmmakers have played a very prominent role in the history of film, with celebrated directors such as Ingmar Bergman, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg all successfully making the transition from European art-house to worldwide, commercial success. Therefore, especially considering there is an intrigue and appreciation for Scandinavian cinema at present, it comes as no surprise that more filmmakers are making the move to Hollywood, and for Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, he couldn’t have hoped for a better debut opportunity - with Safe House a compelling action drama featuring a star-studded, well-versed cast.
Predominantly set in Cape Town, South Africa, Safe House tells the story of rookie CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a security guard at an operated safe house - spending most of his time sitting around doing next to nothing. That is, however, until renowned fugitive Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is captured and brought to the South African capital city.
However, this being a movie, of course things don't go exactly as planned, as a local group of rebels attack the house killing the majority of those inside who are looking after Frost. Weston is therefore under strict instructions from the CIA (Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson) to move the wanted criminal to a different secure location across South Africa, yet due to being a concealed mission, Weston too finds himself on the run from those he considers allies; the police.
Safe House is a riotous production, packed full of action from start to finish - including a couple of riveting car chase sequences. In this respect it feels like a very traditional action thriller - surrendering effectively to the conventionalisms of the well-established genre. The feature doesn't let off, as right from the word go Frost is on the run, and proceeds to be the case for the entirety of the film - from a whole host of different people. Despite being enjoyable, it does make it very difficult to stop and breathe at any point given that you are always wary of an unheralded attack.
However, despite enjoying the countless action sequences, the picture does feel somewhat predictable, as it's a general premise that has certainly been done before. The whole rookie being doubted but desperate to impress story is extremely overcooked and inevitable. Of course the CIA are uncertain and dubious of Weston's credentials and ability to do the job at hand, convinced he'll never be able to manage such a momentous task - yet of course we all know that's never actually going to be the case. And while I'm feeling cynical, I barely noted a single South African accent, and given the film's setting, this seems slightly implausible.
Yet the film boasts what only a mere selection can - the inclusion of one Denzel Washington. There is an element of safety when his name appears on a film poster - that it can't be too bad and at the very least you’re guaranteed one impressive performance, and, as per usual, we are treated to exactly that. He plays the role of Frost with a calming quality he always manages to perfect. Despite being in danger throughout, Frost barely flinches, an unnerving prospect for a man wanted dead by so many different sets of people.
However, Washington, now 57 years of age, spends most of Safe House sitting down with his hands tied up behind his back. Don't get me wrong, what he had to do he did well, but I certainly hope this isn't a sign of things to come for the ageing actor, as I still want to see him fighting a series of bad guys with a gun in his hand. Washington, however, is a supporting role on this occasion, as Reynolds also impresses as lead, playing the action hero rather well: brutish and powerful, yet with a brash, roguish side. Van Wilder is certainly beginning to feel like a long time ago now.
Safe House is simply an undemanding action movie - compact with an absorbing storyline and impressive performances from the protagonists - it's a formulaic yet gratifying film, and a strong Hollywood debut for Espinosa. The only thing misleading about this film is the title - there is absolutely nothing safe about that house.