Denzel Washington is an actor who can improve a film through his sheer presence. One has to wonder, therefore, if Safe House would ever have seen the light of day without him attached. A film oozing with misplaced machismo and with direction bordering on amateurish by Daniel Espinosa, the skull-crushing din of the film will be ringing in your ears for hours afterward.
Washington plays Tobin Frost; a rogue CIA agent who, with an array of dodgy individuals after the damaging information he holds, and him trying to sell this on to equally dodgy and dispensable folk, turns himself into the US Consulate in Cape Town after nearly a decade on the run. He is transferred to a safe house in Johannesburg, managed by rookie Matthew Weston (Ryan Reynolds), for interrogation. However, he and Weston must flee as his enemies catch up with him and all hell breaks loose.
Espinosa displays no ability to develop suspense or flesh out his characters – simultaneously wasting a promising, if not terribly inspiring, premise and decent cast. The whole film feels like a shallow video game directed by a poor man’s Tony Scott – deep scorn indeed. Incomprehensible fist-fights, car chases and bullet storms with all the danger of the post-office queue litter the film. The sooner Denzel Washington gets back to collaborating with Spike Lee and Ryan Reynolds remembers he is actually a pretty decent comic actor, the better. Both should be above this impetuous babble.
Espinosa applies a directorial touch to Safe House that has all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. When someone isn’t being shot, for whatever tenuous reasons the ramshackle narrative dictates, not even the musical score relaxes. The over-saturated colours and occasionally grainy film stock make for odd stylistic choices.
The film shares a cinematographer with the Bourne franchise, but more than shaky hand-held camerawork and rapid cutting are needed to emulate the engagingly kinetic intensity of that infinitely superior set of films. The end product resembles a Catherine wheel: a loud, bright firework that goes nowhere, spinning in circles until long after everyone stopped caring.