Review of Safe House


Movie Review: "Safe House" --

Rating: R (strong violence, some language)
Length: 115 minutes
Release Date: February 10, 2012
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Genre: Crime/Action/Mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The opening moments of "Safe House" show gratuitous shots of Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds)'s chiseled abs as the audience sees his devotion to staying fit. They also get shots of him in the shower and with his girlfriend, Ana (Nora Anezeder), to show how in love he is. Though these may seem like throwaway scenes before the real story begins, they actually do have a place in the larger story. The fact that Weston is so in love will play a decisive part in his actions for the rest of the movie.

Weston is a junior CIA agent stationed in South Africa who is unhappy with his stalled career. He is a lowly "housekeeper" for a safe house that nobody has used in the entire year he has been there. He longs to be a case agent and hopes to get a promotion in the Paris office. Ana is French and will be starting a brand new job in Paris in two weeks. If he doesn't get the promotion, he fears their romance will fizzle with the distance.

After a year of lying dormant, the safe house is suddenly abuzz with activity. Rogue agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) sauntered into the United States consulate in Cape Town and is immediately arrested. Nobody knows why he gave himself up, but they are happy to have him in custody. Nearly a decade earlier, Frost began selling top-secret codes to the highest terrorist bidder. He is a traitor and the CIA agents who bring him into Weston's safe house mean to interrogate him to see what else he knows.

While they use water boarding to coax secrets out of Tobin, the house comes under attack. Weston is locked in a room with Tobin and listens while a group of mercenaries hired to kill Tobin begin picking off the agents one-by-one. In a panic, he grabs Tobin and runs, barely escaping the gunfire.

Weston gets in contact with his CIA superiors led by Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepard), Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) and Weston's confidante, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson). They tell him that they are trying to find another safe house for him to take Tobin to. In the meantime, he must find a way to stay out of harm's way.

This is easier said than done because one of the three is a mole. No matter how clever or quick Weston is on his feet, the bad guys always seem to be waiting for him. This is because they know where he is at all times because one of the three CIA heads is informing them of his whereabouts.

While all of this is going on, Washington and Reynolds impress with their interactions. It starts off very tense and then morphs into something more as the two are thrown together in a fight to survive. The action sequence in a soccer stadium is particularly good and offers Tobin the chance to kill Weston. Instead, he declines to kill him, saying "I only kill professionals." This cuts Weston worse than any knife because he wants to be a professional, but Tobin's years of experience tell him that this junior agent is still an amateur.

The action sequences are all filmed using a hand-held camera. This gives them a dizzying effect that, when used properly, can really add to the film. Swedish director Daniel Espinosa makes a bold choice using these cameras, but pulls it off well. In particular, a scene where Weston and an adversary reach for shards of broken glass to try and kill each other is completely chilling. Had Espinosa used regular cameras, the effect would not have been as great.

Screenwriter David Guggenheim, to make his feature film debut, writes with a deft hand. As the plot unfolds, the audience is thrown a few curveballs that show that Tobin may not be the bad guy we thought he was. Sure, he is a traitor and should be punished, but the reasons for his actions are not so cut-and-dry. He claims that he left the CIA because of the corruption. This may also give some insight as to why he didn't kill Weston. He knows Weston is one of the good guys.

As the film draws to its conclusion, the line between good and bad becomes more and more hazy. The reveal of the mole only adds to the haziness and makes the ending much more bittersweet for all involved. The plot was so intricate and involved that Guggenheim likely has a great career ahead of him as a screenwriter. Whether Weston also has a great career ahead of him in Paris is another matter altogether.

Tags: Safe House