Safe House (2012), the new action thriller from director Daniel Espinosa – starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds – spends most of its 117-minute running time much like its central characters – tearing madly around, making a lot of noise and not really getting very far.
CIA rookie Matt Weston (Reynolds) looks after an agency ‘safe house’ in Cape Town, South Africa, which subsequently comes under attack after ex-agent Tobin Frost (Washington) is captured and taken in for interrogation. Barely escaping with their lives, Weston and Frost find themselves on the run with some very nasty individuals hot on their heels. It emerges that Frost has something they want, and they will let nothing stand in their way of getting it.
There appear to be two types of film emerging in the world of the contemporary thriller. Firstly, you have those from the James Bond school which, despite recent incarnations attempting to distance itself from the sanitised heyday of Roger Moore, still views violence from a cartoonish angle, featuring as little blood and brutality as possible.
Then you have the Jason Bourne approach, where people actually get hurt when punched. Safe House, you feel, is trying to be more Bourne than Bond, but ends up getting carried away with its own self-grandiosity. There is an unbelievable amount of violence (beatings, shootings, explosions, car crashes) to the extent that you begin to wonder whether there really is a storyline there other than to join one killing spree to the next.
There is very little to like about any of the leading characters, which may have helped to justify some of the film’s brutality. Even Reynolds, who appears the most human of a wooden bunch (turning in a sympathetic performance as the bewildered new-boy who soon discovers the instinct for self perseverance brings out the worst in everyone), ends up a cynical agent with his own self-interests paramount.
The major issue with Safe House however, is its style – jumping back and forth in choppy fashion from the CIA’s US headquarters to the story unfolding in Cape Town. Like the car chases (which are admittedly impressive), everything happens too fast, though this breakneck speed unfortunately doesn’t bring the end quick enough.