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Safe House – review

I’ve seen this before right?  I asked myself that question at least ten times while watching Safe House, the new Denzel Washington action vehicle.  In fact I’ve seen Denzel Washington in this before as well.  I had to double check the credits twice to make sure that Tony Scott didn’t direct this one.  Scott and Washington have been doing the same thing over and over for a number of films (Man on Fire, Deja Vu, Unstoppable).  The only difference is that in Safe House, Denzel plays what we think is a bad guy, and director Daniel Espinosa is behind the camera instead of Scott in his first english language film.

Washington plays Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA agent who has been in hiding for over a decade.  The government has been looking for him for years when he all of a sudden turns himself in to a US embassy in Cape Town, South Africa.  He is sent off to a safe house to be guarded until the CIA can bring him back to the states for interrogation.  Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a rookie CIA agent who just happens to be the safe house guard.  He’s spent the better part of a year staring at four empty walls, dying for the chance to get out in to the field…guess what Matt…you’re about to get your field experience…and a lot of it.

There may be a reason Frost willingly handed himself over to the US, because he’s holding something that a lot of people want and know that he has, and they’re coming after him.  A safe house in the middle of Cape Town is the least of their worries too.  Soon Matt will be on his own to take care of Frost and make sure he can keep him safe until the CIA can send a team in to extradite him.

Frost is a master manipulator.  There’s a reason the government hasn’t been able to locate him for all these years.  He also has decades of experience over Matt.  The majority of the film deals with Matt trying to figure out what is the truth, or at least the safest facts for him to believe, in order to do his job as an agent…and to get back to his girlfriend.  Yes people there is always a girl involved in these types of films.  Luckily she doesn’t get to deep into the complications between Frost and Matt, and that’s exactly why the film works.  It focuses on the relationship between Frost and Matt in a gigantic game of cat and mouse.  The CIA is trying to track them down and get to them, but they are left on their own for the majority of the film to work out their new ‘relationship’.

The heart of this film is four or five expertly crafted action scenes that are  fully realized step by step.  Espinosa knows how to film an interesting action scene that makes sense, and thrusts you into the middle of a fight or a chase.  This is an art-form that is usually screwed up by extensive explosions and sound effects and the kitchen sink being thrown in as well.  Espinosa knows that less can be more, and that’s the real fun of the film.

There’s conspiracies, and secrets, and lies, and everything else you could imagine.  Espinosa may have even seen Training Day, The Bourne Supremacy/Identity/Legacy, and Tony Scott’s entire back-catalog one too many times before making the film, but that’s what being a student of film is all about isn’t it?  All the hallmarks are there, so I’ve seen this before right? Maybe, but then again in this type of film…do I even really care?

Grade: B