Safe House, the latest Denzel Washington vehicle, is a crash-bang-wallop thriller that is as noisy as a two ton truck. And just as subtle. After tearing hither and thither across Cape Town for the guts of two hours, Safe House really goes nowhere. This is a film that wants to be a Bourne or a classic Seventies conspiracy flick (say, 3 Days of the Condor) but ends up just giving you a headache.
The thing is it begins so promisingly.
Meet rookie CIA operative (Ryan Reynolds): a good-looking hunk of American pie who is looking after a safe house in Cape Town. But it’s a dead-end detail in an action backwater and Reynolds spends most of his days chalking up time or calling his contact at CIA HQ in Langley (Brendan Gleeson) looking for a promotion. Then something VERY BIG happens when the most notorious rogue agent in CIA history, Tobin Frost (played by a super cool Denzel Washington) breaks cover and seeks asylum with the US government in the South African city. And guess where he ends up?
A crack (or not so crack, as it turns out) CIA team bring Washington to Reynolds safe house. Before you can say ‘guantanamo bay’ a team of mercenaries have stormed the building and wiped out the CIA agents. Reynolds though has nipped out the back door (I think, there’s so much shooting and explosions going on) with a handcuffed Frost. The mercenaries, who want Frost for the intelligence he is carrying, are in hot pursuit. From on we have a chase movie.
Safe House features a number of well-staged set-pieces like the dramatic attack on the safe house, a frenetic car chase through downtown Cape Town and a shoot-out at a football game. There’s also the appealing potential of the cat-and-mouse game between Reynolds and his charge, Washington, which is mirrored on a number of levels as the rookie is wondering who he can really trust. But all that comes to nought!
Safe House boasts an all-star supporting cast including Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick, Vera Farmiga, Rubén Blades and Liam Cunningham, most of whom get very little to do (or get to live very long). Gleeson, who plays his role with the usual mixture of slyness and saltiness, is one of the best things Safe House. As is Washington, but then the double-Oscar winner is treading water here.
They, and the rest of the cast, deserve a better vehicle and a smarter ride.