In a complicated deadly game of international espionage things are rarely what they appear to be. Take the case of Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a young man who, for all intents and purposes, appears to divide his time between his adoring French girlfriend (Nora Arnezeder) and a South African hospital. But if one were to pull back the curtain they would learn that Matt is actually a CIA agent who spends his time watching over a safe house, an assignment of painfully tedious monotony.
In the new action thriller “Safe House”, Reynolds eschews his typical charming, cocky, wisecracking on-screen personas to portray Matt as a mature young man with ambitions both inside and outside of his job. Matt longs to be assigned to a more glamorous position and is hopeful that when his 12 month tour in South Africa is up, a more exciting post awaits him in Paris. It doesn’t hurt that a Paris post will also allow him to be closer to his girlfriend when she returns to Europe in the near future. But his boss David Barlow (Brendan Gleason) isn’t as optimistic.
As his frustrations at the lack of mobility grows, Matt soon finds his quiet world torn asunder by the arrival of Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington). Frost is a former agent who went rogue and is considered an extremely dangerous and high-profile target. Having eluded the CIA for years, he only draws even more suspicion when he surrenders himself to a US consulate in South Africa. The CIA knows they have to act fast to determine what Frost knows, and quickly whisk him away to a safe house for intense interrogation. But the CIA aren’t the only ones who want to know Tobin’s secrets.
Although Matt is highly trained for his job running the safe house, he is very green when it comes to the reality of having to defend his domain against a surprise attack which leaves Tobin and Matt as the only survivors. Forced to flee and with nowhere to turn, Frost tries to convince Matt that they have been set up because someone in the agency does not want Frost to talk. At first skeptical, Matt is forced to step outside of his comfort zones and confront a deadly array of assassins as well as the threat posed by Frost himself and the unseen elements working against them. In a frantic race, Matt must keep Frost and himself alive as they attempt to reach safety and get to the truth behind the deadly game in which they’ve been cast.
Washington and Reynolds worked very well together and had a very natural, unforced chemistry. It was very nice to see Reynolds take on a grittier and more intense role than we have seen from him previously. Washington is a true artist at playing taciturn and wiley, and no one else can portray the pain and shock of being shot as subtly or as convincingly as Washington with just a simple change of expression.
That being said, the film had a number of issues. First and foremost, plot holes that you could drive a truck through and gaps in logic that really require the audience to take some serious leaps of faith. While there was some intense action, it was difficult to appreciate when it looked like the camera was being kicked around the floor during fight scenes, giving the film a very jerky quality. The film also suffered from some pacing issues with parts of the movie dragging as it worked toward an extremely predictable conclusion, one that I figured out very early into the film. There is some fine supporting work in the movie, particularly that of Gleeson and Arnezeder, as well as Ruben Blades as an old cohort of Frost’s, but it is not enough to help the film live up to its intriguing premise.
3 out of 5 stars