When our shady CIA action thriller ‘Safe House’ opens, we get to say hello to young CIA operative Matt Weston as played by Ryan Reynolds. Time it took us to meet Ryan Reynolds’ character and for Ryan to take off his shirt? I’d say about eighteen seconds. A new record. Weston is stationed in Cape Town South Africa and his job is that of the caretaker of an empty Safe House. He’s been doing nothing for twelve months except sitting in and empty house. He has a pretty South African lass (Nora Amazeder) that he has taken up with, that he loves dearly and likes to takes showers with… look, Ryan has his shirt off again…but his job absolutely sucks. He tells his handler, agent David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), that he wants to be reassigned, he wants some action. Well here you go young Agent Weston. Don’t say we never did anything for you.
While Weston is in South Africa taking showers with his girlfriend, Rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is making dirty deals. Time it takes Denzel Washington to flash his trademark ‘I know more than you do’ grin? About four seconds. Frost has just acquired a file which apparently will bring shame and disgrace to almost every single major Intelligence Agency in the world, and also make Frost a nice piece of change in the process. Seems that major intelligence agencies don’t want shame brought upon them, and Frost has been slated for termination. Good luck with that. But as lethal and as crafty as Tobin Frost might be, even he can’t single handedly take out a virtual battalion of armed gunmen, so he’s forced to duck into the consulate of the USA, the county he betrayed ten years ago, for safety.
The powers that be at Langley, mainly the aforementioned Barlow, his rival agent Linklater (Vera Farmiga) and their boss Director Whitford (Sam Shepard) are a little curious why the most hunted man on the planet would stroll into a US Embassy. This asset must be secured. Let’s ferry him to the nearest Safe House. Hello Agent Weston, you know have a house guest. Problem is some bad people also know that Weston has a guest, and sure, Frost was escorted to this house by a half dozen of the toughest, meanest fighting men that we had at our disposal, note the use of the past tense, but now the young agent and the wily veteran are on the run from the meanest Death Squad on
the Planet Earth. The veteran tells the greenhorn, after the vet unsuccessfully he tries to choke him to death, that somebody on the inside is responsible for this unfortunate situation, but the kids not buying it. In fact Tobin Frost is giving Weston all kinds of sage CIA life experience advice, from relationships to bureaucracy, but he figures Frost is just messing with his head. He just wants to secure the package and let the powers that be know that he can handle the heavy stuff.
He can’t handle the heavy stuff. I mean Weston is nowhere near ready for prime time. Not yet. Frost is a little too slick, the Murder Squad is a little too brutal, and his people back at Langley are a little too slimy. But if Weston was paying attention while Frost was talking to him, if he picked up a thing or two, he might be able to figure a few things out, get back in the good graces of the agency, and most importantly earn the respect of one Tobin Frost. What Weston really needs to be worried about is surviving this movie. That should be priority number one for the young man.
Going over it my mind, I don’t think there’s a lot I can offer in regards to legitimate criticism towards ‘Safe House’, outside of the fact I knew who the evil insider was the second this character showed up on the screen. Actually, there’s probably a lot I can think of to criticize about ‘Safe House’ as far as the narrative is concerned as it does have some gaps, gaffes and flaws, but that would be sidestepping the issue of what this movie was designed to be. ‘Safe House’ is a raw dog, balls to the wall, unflinching, unyielding, unapologetic, testosterone fueled action movie. That’s what it is and director Daniel Espinosa lets his audience know, from the first time Tobin Frost shows up on the scene, that this is what you are going to get. Take it or leave it.
And as an action movie I’m of the opinion that ‘Safe House’ is a rousing success. It goes, it goes fast, it goes hard, it goes violently, and it goes almost non-stop. There are two women in the movie, one as a love interest to give Weston something to do and pretty much stays out of the way, and Vera Farmiga’s character who is just another suit. Could’ve been played by Lou Gosset Jr. and nobody would’ve really noticed. The film also has a bona fide movie star as its lead, albeit one whose going to be sixty in a couple of years and might be getting a long in the tooth for this kind of thing, but Denzel Washington knows how these things are supposed to go. He knows how to play it ultra cool for ultra effect, he gives us extreme hostility when done wrong, he’s playfully glib to get us on his side, and he always knows more than anybody else in the movie. This was less of an acting performance from Mr. Washington and more of a presence performance. Oh… the time it took to meet Tobin Frost and For Denzel Washington to execute his trademark walk? About two minutes and thirty seconds.
Ryan Reynolds might not be a movie star, at least in the way that Denzel Washington is a movie star, but he was fine in this movie. He was the one character in this movie that actually had to evolve in some kind of way and he handled it well.
There are holes in the story, gaps in logic, things that don’t make hell of a lot of sense especially as the fireworks draw to a close but we’ll save those for somebody else to break down. Us over here will just enjoy ‘Safe House’ for what it was good at, delivering fast paced explosive action in a fast pace way and… uh… explosively. That’s what it did and we enjoyed it for what it did.