SAFE HOUSE (director: Daniel Espinosa; screenwriter: David Guggenheim; cinematographer: Oliver Wood; editor: Richard Pearson; music: Ramin Djawadi; cast: Denzel Washington (Tobin Frost), Ryan Reynolds (Matt Weston), Vera Farmiga (Catherine Linklater), Brendan Gleeson (David Barlow), Sam Shepard (Harlan Whitford), Rubén Blades (Carlos Villar), Nora Arnezeder (Ana), Robert Patrick (Kiefer), Joel Kinnaman (Keller), Liam Cunningham(Alec Wade), Fares Fares (Vargas); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Scott Stuber; Universal Pictures; 2012)
“A gritty spy thriller.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A gritty spy thriller that’s economically written by David Guggenheim and directed in a frenzied adrenaline dizzying pace by Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa (“Outside Love”/”Easy Money”), who gets the most out of using a hand-held camera to make the action sequences during its frequent chase sequences and shoot-outs look positively real (or to make it look like how it was done by this film’s same cinematographer of those Bourne films, Oliver Woods). It might be familiar and predictable espionage stuff, a standard issue spy thriller, but the acting is superb, the cynical story might not be probing but is credible enough in its assessments of the CIA not being trustworthy, the production values are good and it’s finely directed.
Untested idealistic young CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), frustrated he doesn’t have an assignment in the field as a case officer, has for the last year been on a low-level assignment as the housekeeper of a safe house in Cape Town. When the brilliant rogue former CIA agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), after nine years on the run for selling valuable intel, turns himself in to the American embassy in Cape Town, he’s taken to Matt’s safe house. While Frost is tortured by waterboardingto drop names of informers, double-agents and other valued info wanted by the CIA, the safe house is compromised and Frost’s captors are killed by a group of mysterious raiders who are heavily armed and are after a secret file (cleverly injected by Frost into his skin) they know Frost acquired from a rogue MI 6 agent (Liam Cunningham). In the ensuing chaos of the raid, Matt flees with Frost and is forced to go on the run when Deputy Director of Operations Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepard) tells him not to go to the embassy but take Frost to another safe house in the country. Matt’s CIA superiors, Chief Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) and, his immediate boss, Case Officer David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), arrive in Capetown to take over for Matt.
There is time during the chase to take a pause for Frost to tell us why he betrayed his country and why he stopped believing in the CIA. We also learn from Frost, like Matt does, that the CIA plays dirty and that one of Matt’s bosses compromised the safe house and will probably try to take him out or make him the scapegoat for letting Frost escape, all because the CIA doesn’t want that file obtained by Frost to be made public.
The 57-year-old Denzel is still at the top of his game as an action hero, blessing us again with a commanding performance by this time showing off his dark side. Rubén Blades and Robert Patrick give good supporting performances, as the former is a world-weary passport forger and the later a bold CIA operative who dishes out the CIA dirty work and also is the recipient of its dirty work. Nora Arnezeder has a minor part, as she plays Matt’s perfect French girlfiend who never knew he was CIA and is sent back to Paris by him for her own protection. The film’s major fault is that Matt is fine as a CIA upstart who is outmatched by super-agent Frost, but when in the second half Matt suddenly achieves full-fledged superhero status the pic no longer sustains tension since we can easily guess where this one is going.
REVIEWED ON 2/16/2012 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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