Safe House follows the eager, yet inexperienced, CIA rookie, Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds). Matt’s job is to babysit a safe house in Capetown, preparing it for the CIA’s future “House Guests”. For Matt, this particular guest happens to be Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a rogue field agent and waterboarding enthusiast. After a series of explosions and executions, Matt escapes the safe house with Tobin as his prisoner. Safe House takes a predictable venture into the “Who Can You Trust?” style of film, without creating any actual depth of plot. The haphazard, fast-moving plot is simply a thin veil for the main focus of the film: action.
The action in Safe House, while repetitive, is fast, fluid and enjoyably frequent; the roar of gunfire and screams of pain are sure to be heard throughout the theater. The breakneck action is sure to please most action junkies, without ostracizing audiences who came for more. I’m afraid that the camera may have been stuck in a perpetual earthquake, considering it wasn’t still for a single shot. While terribly effective, the overuse of the “Shaky-Cam” becomes terribly annoying. I don’t need to feel like I’m out at sea while Ryan Reynolds is eating an orange.
Safe House certainly doesn’t lack in talent, headlining with: Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson. Refreshingly enough, all of the actors performed up to par with their abilities. I’ve seen so many films recently where the lead roles are the only ones who seem to have their hearts in it, but Safe House joyfully skips past this pitfall. Of course, Denzel turns the charm up to 11, while Reynolds relies on being the wise-cracking ‘everyman’. Even though her screen time is brief in comparison, Vera Farmiga delivers a satisfying performance for such a thin role.
One thing that this film really lacks, though, is a connection to the audience. The empathetic connection that audiences build with a character is vital in any film, but it can be especially important in action films. Every generic thriller/action flick has fast action and flashy effects, but you won’t really care about what happens in the end. That lack of involvement is one of the major flaws in Safe House. With a shower and a brief boredom montage being the only scenes before the action begins, Safe House seems to miss out on any connection to the main character. By jumping into the main plot so quickly, there was no time to relate to Reynolds’ character (or any character, for that matter).
Overuse of cinematic techniques became one of my largest complaints about Safe House. They used a film grain for the entire movie, never once cutting to a clean shot. This granularity certainly gets the intended feelings across, but I think that contrasting the clarity and film grain could have made particular scenes feel much more intense. Instead, it loses its purpose and becomes something you tune out after the first thirty minutes. Also, they must have shot the entire movie about fourteen inches from the actors. After the first few establishing shots, we rarely escape the personal space of each character. There was also never a clear view of the scene, always having some scenery obstructing the action. Whether it’s having a wall block out 2/3 of the screen or having a traffic sign shift in front of the subject of the scene, you never get a decent look at what the hell is going on. I understand that both having the action take place close to the camera and obstructing the view can create tension, as well as a feeling of realism to the scene, but Safe House never lays off of these tricks.
Don’t let my ramblings fool you, Safe House delivers an enjoyable experience. This experience ends up being muddled by a relatively thin plot and characters, but the film succeeds more than it fails. Even though Safe House seems to be a paint-by-numbers action flick, it’s saved by the performances of the entire cast and intensely executed action. So, if you’re in the mood for a less serious thriller, you’ll probably enjoy the quick thrills of Safe House.
I give Safe House 3.5 “Well-Needed Haircuts” out of 5