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Safe House - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
Event: -
Copyright Universal Pictures


A house guest becomes your sole responsibility in a life-and-death situation. When the situation gets to that point, your actions and decisions put yourself and others at risk. The importance of the responsibility for your house guest is explored in a very explosive fashion in Safe House.

Ryan Reynolds stars as Matt Weston, an up-and-coming rookie who is stuck in a dead-end low-key job with the C.I.A. as a Safe House keeper in Cape Town, South Africa. Staring at the walls all day and answering telephones, he is desperately trying for a promotion by pestering his understanding superior David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson). But one day, he unexpectedly has a special visitor. An apprehended man by the name of Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is escorted into the safe house and is systematically tortured for information that is damaging to the integrity of agencies all over the world. Frost himself is an ex-C.I.A. operative, a lethal weapon and a traitor as far as the establishment is concerned. But when an unknown team of assassins breach the safe house and wipe out the squad guarding Frost, it's up to Weston to keep him detained and safe until he can be interrogated. Weston sees this as an opportunity to prove himself to his superiors and so begins a fast-paced and action-packed pursuit where no one is safe.

What begins as an interesting premise quickly becomes an exercise in budget abuse. The film is filled to the brim with car chases and crashes, gunfights, explosions and fisticuffs that would've given local police a massive headache. The early scenes set in the Safe House give a very human edge to the material due to the claustrophobic and intimate atmosphere of the action, very much like John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 [1976]. Perhaps if the whole film took place in this setting it could've made for quite an interesting and intense action picture, but then when they go on the run it quickly settles into convention. Presented like a wannabe-Tony Scott picture (including Washington in a lead role), the camera work is all over the place and extremely irritating. Even in dialogue scenes, the camera waving about so much you'd think cinematographer Oliver Wood (The Bourne series) has never seen a tripod before in his life.

The story has its flaws also, mainly in the beginning when Frost more or less turns himself in to the U.S. consulate there's no explanation of why he does this. Furthermore, it only scratches the surface in terms of all the C.I.A. mumbo-jumbo that we've seen in every single Hollywood action film about this subject. However, it can be easily followed and the action scenes are exciting. What essentially keeps it a little more interesting is that it's difficult to put these characters into a box we are unsure of who is on who's side and who is doing the right/wrong thing. But what we do know is that there is a lot of double-crossing going on.

Washington is very strong in it with a very intimidating edge through powers of manipulation, making it seem to the audience that he is always reading people. Ryan Reynolds has a very humanistic approach to his character giving a favourable dynamic to the film. He is a trained killer, but also has heart, soul and spirit, all of which can be broken.

Safe House is fast and dynamic but lacks in substance and originality. While the film overstays it's welcome at two-hours, it doesn't go into detail where it should on the whole espionage aspect. If it did, many of the character's motives would seem more plausible. But on the surface, it works as an exciting action thriller.

2.5 stars out of 5

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Why? An exciting action-packed thriller
When: February 9th (AUS), February 10th (US), February 24th (UK)
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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