bill bodkin reviews the No. 1 action movie in America …
Imagine the following …
Imagine an action movie where Denzel Washington portrays a violent, untrustworthy killer and doesn’t do his usual “King Kong’s got nothing on me!” bad-guy routine.
Imagine a movie where Ryan Reynolds doesn’t do his pretty-boy smart-aleck routine.
Imagine an action thriller where, the plot, which revolves around the world of espionage and deceit, doesn’t have absurd plot twists where characters switch allegiances at the drop of a hat.
If you can imagine all of these things put together in a white knuckle, red-blooded, intelligent action-thriller, you’ve got the film Safe House.
Safe House is a straightforward thriller brimming with car chases, fist fights and shoot-outs. But what makes Safe House a step above your run-of-the-mill action flick is a subtle yet potent addition of suspicion.
The seed of suspicion is planted early on in the film both for the audience and CIA newbie Matt Westin (Reynolds). In a tense moment, blacklisted super spy Tobin Frost (Washintgon) looks Westin in the eye and bluntly asks him who he can trust. The safe house Westin watches has just been raided, all the CIA ops in the house gunned down. It’s gotta be an inside job, right? And if this is true, can Westin trust anyone he talks with from the agency? So we, along with Westin, are now in a pickle. Can we actually trust anything Westin’s trio of CIA heavyies (Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga and Sam Sheppard) that he reports to? Or is Frost, a renowned manipulator, toying with both Westin and us?
So now, in between action sequences, when we’re allowed to digest of vital plot developments, we have to wonder what’s truth and what’s not. It’s a clever device, one that keeps Safe House from being a mindless orgy of violence and actually makes it a taught thriller.
Director Daniel Espinosa (Easy Money) should be given a lot of credit for keeping the air of doubt in perfect balance with the high contrast action sequences he’s created. He’s also should be commended for sticking to this style of no nonsense and no frills in the film and not allowing his lead actors’ much criticized characteristics filter into the movie. If Reynolds were sarcastic, it would’ve ruined the character of Westin, our in-the-dark yet high capable guide through this world of deceit. If Espinosa had allowed Denzel to start chewing scenery and deliver wildly intense monologues, the subtle manipulatory aspects of Frost’s character would’ve been overshadowed. It’s the reserved calm of Frost that makes you, as an audience, much like the character of Westin, want to believe Frost isn’t this traitor, this monster, but he’s actually a decent guy.
This is what makes Safe House more than just “another Denzel action movie.” It’s not all bravado and balls — it’s intelligent, it’s clever and it keeps you engaged throughout. Sure, not all the dialogue is brilliant and the ending feels a little tacked on, but this movie is really, really good. It reminds me a lot of Taken, a movie that hits you from left field with just how well done it is. It’s not some mindless piece of escapist fluff, it has high rewatchability and performances from actors who clearly are not delivering another “same old, same old” role.