Jason Statham (aka ‘the Stath’) returns to the action fold with Safe (2012), a mostly by-the-numbers, yet surprisingly involving and dynamic thriller from writer/director Boaz Yakin. The film centres on Statham’s Luke Wright, an ex-cop who, after stumbling upon a prized 12-year-old Chinese girl called Mei (Catherine Chan), finds himself caught up in a three-way gangland conflict. All the while, Wright begins slowly but surely falling into his old ways of life – one suffused with crime, violence and self-destruction.
As far as Hollywood action-thrillers go, Safe doesn’t tread too far from the conventional, yet Yakin somehow manages to infuse his film with enough potency to make it far more urgent and beneficial than expected. Yakin devotes almost the entire first third of the narrative to setting the scene, introducing us to the characters, their personalities and their motives. This, while unfortunately making the rest of the piece feel a little too rushed and overloaded for its own good, allows for audience to make a connection with both Luke and Mei, that makes the emotional pay-off at the end seem greater than it actually is.
Statham delivers a fine, entertaining turn as Wright. Driven to self-containment by his shady, afflicted past, his forced re-integration into the criminal underworld feels natural and gradual enough to maintain the level of authenticity established. It’s a role that commendably manages to show another side of Statham, too, and may well be one of his finest to date. Likewise, Chan is resolute as Mei, and the two share some welcomed moments of father-and-daughter-like tenderness, which in turn provides a refreshing break from the otherwise quick-fire narrative.
That’s not to say Yakin scrimps when it comes to the action – on the contrary, in fact. Safe benefits from some streamlined and exhilarating action set pieces, ranging from car chases to indoor shoot-outs. It’s not that they’re different per se, more that Yakin utilises cinematographer Stefan Czapsky to create a more claustrophobic city-scape in order for our hero to attempt to navigate Mei through in the hope of bringing her to safety.
Safe may not bring anything particularly fresh to the action-thriller genre, but by spending a little more time accustoming the audience to our heroes and creating an invigorating level of urgency through inspired camera angles and not simply by going from one set piece to another, Yakin is able to bring about enough distractions and hints of uniqueness that the narrative doesn’t matter all that much. He’s a filmmaker to softly applaud – and not just for his willingness to allow Statham the opportunity to act for a change.