Cast: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson. Sam Shepard, Rubén Blades, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham.
Safe House is an explosive spy thriller which takes Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy out of the cold war and thrusts it violently into the modern day trade in secrets, particularly those a secret service would prefer the public never knew. The action centres around a rogue one-time CIA operative, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), who after nine years of selling his country's secrets to the highest international bidder, walks into the American Consulate in Cape Town to escape some persistent and ruthless gunmen.The flap in CIA headquarters in Langley, VA is suitably frenzied, with some senior heavyweights in American security services very anxious indeed to put their most dangerous traitor to some stringent questioning regarding some intel of devastating potential.
Opposite Frost is pitted a young and untried would-be operative Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), who as the film opens is barely surviving the boredom of being the housekeeper of a safe house. The position is one of constantly keeping watch and maintaining high security, lying to his girlfriend about his job, while absolutely nothing happens. There has been no 'guest', until Frost is brought there hooded and in handcuffs, for the 12 months of Weston's employment. When the safe house is violently breached, Weston must take Frost on the run to the next safe house pursued by killers who stop at nothing.
Set in the more affluent city streets of Cape Town, South Africa as well as the open veldt and the pungent decrepitude of a ghetto township, the action is spectacularly violent and fast-paced. Screeching car chases and prolonged gun battles in public places are offset by some intense moments of stillness and calm appraisal on the part of Washington, eerily reminiscent of Morgan Freeman in this movie. Frost's long experience on the edge of violent death has made him philosophical and economical with his physical and emotional involvement, and discerning in who to trust and who to kill - something young Weston is still to learn.
Able performances by Sam Shepard, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Patrick and Vera Farmiga representing the wrathful force of the CIA seem superficial compared with Washington's depths and facility for nuance. Reynolds gives a believable character arc from naive and somewhat uncontrolled to someone we can believe might survive his edgy future. There's a noteworthy performance of heart by Rubén Blades as a forger, and Nora Arnezeder as Weston's girlfriend gives credible context to the simple pleasures security operatives have to give up. The plots twists are more or less predictable, though some are more heart wrenching more than others because of the way we are made to care for the characters that matter, and the message overall is not too cliché. Music by Ramin Djawadi (Clash of the Titans) gives a suitably nervy percussive undercurrent.
© Avril Carruthers 9th February 2012
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