Safe House is that rare film that surprises me because of how completely off my radar it was. As much as I like the leads, Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, the trailers for this film are particularly uninspiring. We see a rogue CIA agent, Tobin Frost (Washington), attacked as he is being held in a safe house watched over by the green agent Matt Weston (Reynolds). The two men try to reach their own objectives while those back at Langley, Linklater (Vera Farmiga) and Barlow (Brendon Gleeson) try to figure out what Frost is doing, and what to do with him.
The plot expands out nicely from that premise, and becomes complex enough to feel satisfying, but not difficult to follow at all. While it is usually obvious where the film is headed, the execution is done so well, and the cast so fun to watch, that it never bothered me. What I would like to praise the script for is actually doing a decent job of exploring the moral ambiguities inherit in covert operations. While drawing the parallel between Frost and Weston is an obvious move, the film goes beyond that, testing what Reynolds is willing to sacrifice for his mission. I also want to compliment the film on leaving the character judgement largely up to the audience. The decisions the characters make are largely presented in a neutral fashion, even down to the end. Fallout is messy, and the film relishes it.
The action sequences in this film are exciting because they are done in a realistic style. There are no gadgets in this spy story, just guts and luck. The car chase is particularly satisfying, working well enough to warrant spontaneous applause from our fellow audience members. The fights are very reminiscent of the Bourne films, lots of gun play that comes down to brutal close combat using household objects.
Aiding all this is Swedish director Daniel Espinosa’s style, which is very reminiscent of what directors Liman and Greengrass did for the Bourne trilogy. In fact, the man behind the camera is Oliver Wood, who shot the first three Bourne films. Everything is shot ‘naturalistic’ and tight, the cuts are quick, occasionally disorienting, but with purpose. Sometimes the camera goes behind an object, or around to a new angle, giving this thriller a style so many others seem to lack.
Safe House isn’t going to win any points for originality, but when the execution is this good, that hardly matters.
Safe House opens today in Philly-area theaters.