REVIEW: Safe House

3 03 2012

We all know Denzel Washington is an outstanding actor.  Most of us know that the same could not be said for Ryan Reynolds.  (For those that refute this, ask yourselves whether you are in love with his physique or his performances.)  “Safe House” amounts to little more than a “Bourne”-lite adventure reaffirming these virtually self-evident conclusions.

The adventure takes us to South Africa, where the dullness of Matt Weston’s (Reynolds) humdrum job supervising a CIA safe house has begun to take a psychological toll as he feels stuck and unable to move up the institutional ladder.  This would be an Occupy-friendly film if only Reynolds were complaining about not having a job; later, the film delves into a new favorite action movie trope that would also have the vagrants of Zuccotti Park licking their chops: THE GOVERNMENT IS CORRUPT!  All of them!  Just working the government destroys your soul and taints your brain!  I get it, Hollywood, you love 1968 and want to keep the spirit of skepticism and distrust of institutions alive … but that was four decades ago and the schtick is getting a little old.  Maybe it’s time for a new target.

But the monotony of his vocation gets suddenly broken when a captured criminal is brought it – young Cornel West!  Just kidding, Denzel Washington’s rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost only looks like him.  The difference between the scholar and the character is that Frost is much better at getting people to see things his way.  As the latest Hannibal Lecter knock-off, Frost is hardly as frightening as might be expected, but Washington’s calm portrayal certainly makes him an eerie wild-card and a ticking time bomb.

Frost plays all sorts of mind games with Weston, and the result is a sort of perverse and reversed Stockholm syndrome where the captor begins to identify with his captive.  As they weave across the country from the glamorous World Cup soccer stadiums to the gritty tenements, Frost begins to embed his jaded cynicism rather obviously into his young and naive guard.  It’s almost too easy and transparent; movies like these normally work because they sneak up on you.  However, “Safe House” has the subtlety of a shotgun in instilling change in its protagonist and resultantly feels like a dumbed down version of the sub-genre classics.

Behind the scenes, Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga are CIA agents trying to track them down, again reminiscent of the “Bourne” movies.  Yet given that they are after Frost because he holds massive amounts of intelligence secrets, they have remarkably low stakes.  If you took out all mentions of Frost from their dialogue, you could have told me that they were hunting someone who pirated “Love Happens” and I would have bought it.  So by all means, if you need some shaky-cam car chases and shootouts across the world, maybe “Safe House” will satisfy the void Matt Damon left in your life back in 2007.  But by the time August 2012 rolls around and Jeremy Renner takes over the Bourne franchise, I probably will have forgotten this movie.  C+


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