Review: Safe House (2012)

Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga

Sometimes being overly derivative isn’t a bad thing. While Daniel Espinosa’s Safe House does noticeably borrow (heavily) from contemporary actioners both stylistically and in terms of substance, it manages to entertain despite its more obvious flaws that you simply can’t work your way around. Centering on safe “housekeeper” Matt Weston as a notorious former (and extremely skilled) CIA operative is placed in his custody, things quickly go awry as the safe house is ransacked by a group of terrorists dead set on recovering something the rogue agent has in his possession. What ensues is a barrage of predictability, ranging from overblown action set pieces to bouts of CIA-centric shop talk regarding the central characters’ ongoing predicament, however it isn’t all bad when you take everything the film does right into consideration.

From the get-go, it becomes apparent that Espinosa couldn’t help but mimic the likes of the Bourne trilogy by way of what people are criticizing as “poorly edited” action sequences. Since Safe House indeed prides itself on showcasing the larger part of its budget, these sequences certainly are NOT few and far between and the choppiness regarding their presentation is appropriate given the kinetic feel of the film as a whole. Needless to say, Espinosa fails not-so-admirably in humanizing Reynolds’ Weston and Washington’s titular Tobin Frost, but the central story arc itself, cliches aside, tends to engross more than bore as the film moves along at a reasonable clip.

While there’s the requisite amount of double-crossing and relatively well-executed twists that go hand-in-hand with any action-thriller of this type, namely anything dealing with a government organization, Safe House is best enjoyed by establishing for yourself a base level of understanding. Any attempt at making sense of the plot’s unsubtle intricacies will only frustrate you, so take each twist and turn as it comes with a grain of salt and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable the bulk of the proceedings can be and often are. Predictability aside, Espinosa and the gang admirably defy convention here and there by keeping the audience on their toes, ensuring that said twists coincide nicely with Safe House‘s textbook yet gratifying conclusion.

The film finds further solace in its two male leads, one of whom is more so a newcomer to the genre while the other is quite the hardened veteran. Assuming you realize that former’s a nod to Mr. Reynolds, it’s a relief to see that following Buried the man in question can admirably handle any role, quirk-free, with surprising finesse. Washington turns in a fine performance as always, however the cookie-cutter omniscient super agent he plays is a far cry from a dynamic character, yet perfect for the man in question to portray and favorably at that. A dynamite supporting cast comprised of Brendon Gleeson and Vera Farmiga further heightens the slightly above average proceedings, even though they serve only to fill in the gaps brought about by the CIA’s increased involvement in the hunt for these characters and why Frost’s capture is so expectedly important in the grand scheme of things.

Does Safe House reinvent the wheel? No. Does it need to? No. Instead, it provides us with a worthwhile escape from our daily trials and tribulations while remaining as reasonably engaging as a film of its type certainly should. The choppy editing, although distracting, is a perfect fit albeit a bit derivative, and the whole rogue government operative angle’s as uninspired as they come, yet the narrative itself still manages to entertain at frequent intervals as the proverbial cat-and-mouse cross-country chase at the film’s core presents us with the very few (somewhat) clever tricks it has up its sleeve. Throw in a pair of above average performances from a pair of above average leading men and you have yourselves a pretty well-rounded action thrill ride, providing you can stomach some of its obvious shortcomings that I simply couldn’t overlook, and for good reason.

Rating: 5/10

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