Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a typical, hard-working American. He wakes up next to his French girlfriend, has breakfast, cleans up and heads in to the office. Like so many others, he spends his time sitting at a desk, staring at computer monitors and making the occasional phone call. He’s bored out of mind. There’s just one major difference – Matt is a low-ranking CIA officer tasked with maintaining a top-secret safe house for the intelligence agency located in Cape Town, South Africa and he hasn’t seen any ‘guests‘ in at least twelve months… until today.
When that long-awaited phone call comes in early on a Friday morning, Matt’s excited to finally see some action. What he doesn’t know yet is that his first ‘house guest‘ is considered one of the deadliest ex-intelligence officers to defect from the CIA, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington). After eluding the agency for nearly a decade, Frost willingly turns himself in to the American consulate for reasons unknown and Matt’s safe house is the closest secure location where he can be questioned. But Frost isn’t one to give in under pressure… and before very long, some uninvited mercenaries compromise the location and will stop at nothing to capture Frost and whatever information he may carry. Matt has to make a split-second decision that sets the stage for the roller-coaster ride that will become the next twenty-four hours. He decides to keep Tobin Frost in his custody until a secure rendezvous can be arranged at another safe house. And he has to attempt this without getting killed by mercenaries or giving into Frost’s mind games.
The hot pursuit of Matt and Frost by highly-trained men with military-grade weapons leads to insane car chases through crowded streets, gun fights in the ghetto and a sense of never having the chance to remain in one place for very long. Who are these men and what do they want? Along the way, Matt learns more and more about what information Frost may have, and the corruption that comes from an industry based on deceiving people for the sake of earning their trust… not to mention, the damage it can do to relationships with loved ones. But just as was the case at the now-abandoned safe house, Frost refuses to cooperate; preferring instead to play with Matt’s head and doing all he can to escape so he may pursue his own agenda… which no longer includes being in the custody of the CIA.
For the most part, this is material we’ve seen before and the surprises are few and far between, leaving one with a desire for more originality and intrigue from an espionage film. One could easily make some comparisons between Safe House and similar films. There’s the gritty, hand-held photography, adrenaline-charged car chases and close-range, brutal combat as seen in The Bourne Identity (200)… but without the intellectual depth and political complexity that keeps people guessing until the last minute. The bickering protagonists share a similar character dichotomy (and actor) as Detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) and Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) of Training Day (2001)… but lacks the controversial edginess and non-stop battle of wits that would make it truly unforgettable. Audiences reacted to the characters of Training Day because they were relatable, which isn’t really the case with Safe House. The almost total lack of backstory and character development didn’t help a rather static storyline that remained fairly predictable throughout.
Reynolds and Washington deliver solid performances and maintain great chemistry throughout the well-paced plot. It’s just that neither actor seemed to push the boundaries of his talent – though it was different to see Reynolds beat someone to a bloody pulp.
Safe House is a fun, action-packed film that doesn’t stop moving until the very end. If you’re a fan of action, espionage, explosions and gun fights, chances are you’ll enjoy this movie. The film is well-executed, had great production value and can stand on its own as a high-quality piece of work… I just needed some new spice added to a recipe that’s been used time and time again.