10 February 2012

Safe House

Denzel Washington is shown in a scene from "Safe House."
You can watch "Safe House" and see the obvious influence of the "Bourne" movies on its many action scenes. You can see Denzel Washington synthesizing his various screen personas into what essentially is a greatest-hits performance. And even though characters talk about the hardships necessitated by a life spent in espionage, you can see a movie that doesn't really have anything meaningful to say.

It would be easy to think, "Been there, done that," and move on to the next disposable entertainment.

But almost in spite of itself, "Safe House" is an effective piece of genre filmmaking.

As Tobin Frost (one of those only-in-the-movies names), a CIA agent who turned traitor nine years earlier, Washington clearly is relishing the antihero role. He gets to be a bit of the bad guy, a bit of the do-gooder with a self-righteous streak. It's a role he could play in his sleep, but he still has fun with it. Frost has something a bunch of people will kill for, so with no other options, he turns himself in at the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town, South Africa.

From there, he's taken to a CIA safe house manned by young Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds, quietly becoming a versatile leading man), who's been desperate for something—anything—to happen there.

He gets his wish when the bad guys storm the safe house and he goes on the run with Frost in his charge.

The movie breaks down to a series of fights and chase scenes, with a few character beats and a little mystery about who inside the CIA leaked the safe house location thrown in between.

The action, especially the hand-to-hand combat, is raw and visceral. As the movie goes on, and characters become tired and wounded, the fights take on a clumsy, chaotic quality that ups the brutality.

This is the kind of movie you feel more in the gut than the head.

Greg’s Grade: B+

(Rated R for strong violence throughout and some language. 115 minutes.)

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