f your by-the-numbers action/thriller is going to have any chance of standing out, you either need a bold director making a lot of interesting choices or have an exceptionally solid cast.
While “Safe House” director Daniel Espinosa does a solid job, it’s not enough to lift the burden of success of the actors.
Fortunately, the movie stars Denzel Washington, who is one of the few actors in the history of film who instantly makes any movie watchable.
It’s been a while since Denzel was in a truly good movie (I would argue the last was 2006’s “Inside Man,” although I’d hear you out if you wanted to make a case for 2007’s “American Gangster”).
His last three movies, “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” “The Book of Eli” and “Unstoppable” were way more entertaining than they had any right to be and for that Denzel deserves all the credit.
“Safe House” is a cut above those other films, although not by much. Denzel plays Tobin Frost (extra points for the awesome name), a turncoat CIA agent who has spent the past decade on the run all the while selling state secrets to the highest bidder.
When we meet Tobin, he is dodging bullets from unknown assailants on the streets of Cape Town, South Africa. Out of options, he ducks into the American consulate and turns himself in.
Seeing how he is wanted for treason and all, he has quickly whisked away to a safe house stationed by green CIA field agent Matt Weston, played by Ryan Reynolds.
I’ve always kind of liked Reynolds. He was being groomed as the next big Hollywood headliner until his movie-star cred took a big hit with last summer’s back-to-back flops “The Green Lantern” and “The Change-Up.”
He may have done a bit of career salvaging here as he really impressed me with his ability to rise to the occasion and hold his own with the likes of Denzel.
Back at the safe house, all hell breaks loose when the same nameless goons from the beginning of the movie show up and Matt is forced to flee with the highly dangerous and highly motivated Tobin in tow.
Matt contacts his trio of superiors back at CIA headquarters, played by Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, and Sam Shepard, who order Matt to stay mobile and hold on to Tobin until reinforcements arrive.
These three excellent character actors help keep the movie interesting when the cameras are off Washington and Reynolds, which is made even more impressive by the fact that all they are able to do is stand around a bunch of TV monitors and intently answer phone calls.
So the physical and psychological games of cat-and-mouse are on between Matt and Tobin as they evade unnamed assassins and a potential mole within the CIA.
“Safe House” is gritty, exciting, violent, and predictable. It is cut from the same cloth as the “Bourne” movies, although it is nowhere near as compelling as those spy thrillers when it comes to plotting and pacing.
What it is instead, is another exceptional performance from Washington that elevates a mediocre movie, with an impressive assist from Reynolds, who digs deep and proves he has some decent acting chops himself.
If anything, “Safe House” may be most remembered as the moment when Denzel went from just saving movies to saving the careers of his fellow actors as well. I say we give the guy a crack at the economy while he’s on a roll
“Safe House” is rated R for strong violence throughout and some language.