Saturday, July 14, 2012

Safe House

Safe House (2012)
Action, Crime, Mystery, 115 minutes
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Starring Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Robert Patrick

I almost went to see Safe House in the theater, and barely resisted the urge to blind-buy the Blu-ray, and I'm glad that I waited. After borrowing the movie from a friend, I know that I saved myself $20.

It's not that Safe House is terrible, it's just formulaic, mediocre, and badly-written.

The basic story is built around Matt Weston (Reynolds), who looks after a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. The job involves a lot of sitting around, but he springs into action when he learns that Tobin Frost (Washington), a rogue CIA agent, has been captured, and will be delivered into his custody. When a recovery team, led by Agent Kiefer (Patrick), is attacked and defeated, Weston is left to bring Frost in himself.

Weston is ambitious and wants to work at a more high profile location, but he's young and unproven in the eyes of his bosses. We are shown how he is regarded during an exchange involving his superiors, Barlow (Gleeson) and Linklater (Farmiga), at HQ.

Imagine you were given the chance to write the screenplay. How would you make it stand out from previous entries in the genre? We have seen this subject handled well in the Bourne series, and reasonably well in Salt. Safe House doesn't belong in the same class.

What's wrong with the movie? The excellent cast is virtually ignored. Instead of establishing the characters and giving them depth, we are given very little background information. The front cover promises an adrenaline rush, and that's all that we are given. If you love action movies and don't care about the plot, Safe House delivers. But if you want to know why these events are occurring, it's not exactly an important part of the mix. There's a lot of gunfire, but meaningful dialogue is at a minimum.

If I had the pleasure of directing actors like Washington, Farmiga and Gleeson, I would make use of their abilities. Washington doesn't put a foot wrong, he's just given nothing to work with. Farmiga's screen time is extremely limited, but remember how effective she was in a similar role in The Departed? Gleeson is one of a kind and excelled in movies such as In Bruges and The Guard, but his character has no depth in Safe House. I see this as a wasted opportunity.

In the Bourne movies, we see how Jason Bourne meets his girlfriend, and how that relationship becomes meaningful. When she is threatened, we feel his pain and we react. Weston's girlfriend in Safe House may as well have been a cardboard cutout, and as a result, we feel nothing when he examines their relationship.

Safe House focuses on the action element. You'll see shootouts, car chases, explosions and people running. You might even understand why all this is happening, even though it's just a by-the-numbers screenplay. The movie grossed over $200 million and you won't scream for your money back, but I wouldn't bother buying the Blu-ray unless you are an action junkie. I love the cast, but against my expectations, I'm severely disappointed by the end result. Watch Bourne again instead, or watch Anton Corbijn's, The American, as that actually has some fresh ideas.

Overall score 3/5

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  1. Hey Steve, great review! I'm glad that I'm not the only one who felt that 'Safe House' failed to deliver the goods...the worst sin it committed (in my opinion) is that it was boring. About halfway through I stopped caring what was going to happen and by the end of the film I sighed a breath of relief that I could stand up and leave...I felt that it was a movie that wanted to be 'Training Day' but had no idea how to achieve it...

    I bet you must be stoked that you saved $20!!

  2. Thanks Russell. Yes, I found that I was waiting for it to end too. The writing was weak and I was never really invested in the story. I spent more time wondering why they bothered to make the movie.

  3. Great review. This never caught my eye and now I know I didn't miss on much.

  4. Yeah, you didn't miss much, Fernando.

  5. Every time they would focus on the plot, my mind would just run away, but whenever the action came on, it was freakin’ awesome! Reynolds and Washington also did well together but once again, it’s pretty much Training Day without Ethan Hawke. Good review Steve.