You don’t see too many action films set almost entirely in Africa. Indiana Jones spent some time in Egypt, Jason Bourne dropped in on Morocco, and I suppose Congo took place in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Safe House spends almost all of its time in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s about time they gave Paris, Rome, and New York City a break from being the ubiquitous action cities. Unfortunately, the originality fissured out after location scouting.
After noticing how much money Unstoppable made, it appears the filmmakers here found a way to team up Denzel Washington with another young, white male with model looks but instead of Chris Pine, this time we get Ryan Reynolds. Matt Weston (Reynolds) is a CIA field agent but way down on the totem pole. This is his first assignment and he is in charge of a safe house in downtown Cape Town should real CIA case officers ever need a place to hang out for a few hours. After a sharp and noteworthy chase scene leads off the film, rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost (Washington) finds himself arrested and being tortured by some very grizzled agents in Matt’s safe house.
How he ends up there is enjoyable for the audience so I will not reveal it here; however, the script and film really trail off after such a smart beginning. Tobin’s interrogation is interrupted when a skilled team of bad guys loudly infiltrate the safe house and Matt, for a rookie, does an admirable job getting Tobin out of harm’s way while every other CIA agent gets mowed down. Now on the run in Cape Town, Matt has to protect both Tobin and himself from a very determined mob of assassins. Tobin does not want protection though; he wants his freedom and sees young Matt as not too difficult an obstacle to overcome.
Matt is scrappier than his experience lets on though. He keeps up with Tobin and back at CIA headquarters, his boss David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) sings his praises to an agency which is no longer sure whose side Matt is on. Matt’s skeptics include the high-ranking Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) and the very high-ranking Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepard). How did Safe House score such a formidable cast and what are they all doing slumming in this middle of the road action thriller? This is fair game for Reynolds and Washington, but Safe House is an odd choice for Gleeson, Farmiga, and Shepard. They get limited screen time and no dialogue to show off their skills. Was it just the quick paycheck?
There was a lot of thought put into the fight scenes though. Instead of routine punches thrown and absorbed, the guys here are really getting scratched, cut, bruised, shot, etc… Action films usually let their heroes gloss over any pain they might feel or just walk it off, but Matt and Tobin thoroughly endure every bad guy they come across and never come out clean on the other side. Unfortunately, the camera work which filmed these impressive fight scenes was hand-held to make them scene more frenetic and shaky than they should be. Nobody likes the hand-held camera, especially when the cameraman is running down the street along with the action. It is annoying.
I do not recommend Safe House but it is only a marginal non-recommend. The fight scenes are original and exciting but the cinematography and the feeling that I’ve seen Denzel do this before hurts its cause. Also, enjoy the casting but know that they do not belong here.