Movie Review: ‘Safe House’

February 21, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Denzel Washington 'Safe House'
Denzel Washington brings out his generic 'intense' performance for action thriller 'Safe House'. (Universal Pictures)

If you’ve ever wished your job was slightly more exciting, you might reassess such notions after watching this supposed adrenaline rush of a thriller. 

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a man with ambition. He’s a young C.I.A. agent working out of a Cape Town based safe house; an ad hoc storage facility that is permanently on standby at the behest of the US government. Weston has been there for 12 months, watching inactive monitors, silent phones, and bouncing balls against the wall. 

When the phone does eventually ring it is to inform him that rogue agent, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) has just turned himself in to the US consulate after years on the run has just ended with a seemingly botched trade. Frost’s arrival is the catalyst for an attack on the safe house, forcing Weston to go on the run while a reluctant intelligence team can escort them to safety. 

Denzel Washington has made this kind of film his bread and butter pay packet over the last decade. Whether acting alongside Ethan Hawke in Training Day, Chris Pine in Unstoppable, or Dakota Fanning in Man on Fire, he always delivers the same ferociously intense, larger-than-life performance that engulfs the film and elevates it above its own narrative limitations. 

So it’s a shame that Safe House is that carbon copy performance once again. It’s a grandiose and wizened turn but not that different to what we’re used to. Hasn’t anyone ever told you that variety is the spice of life, Denzel?

On this occasion Reynolds is the hot-headed antithesis for Denzel to play off against. He too is fine whilst playing a dialled down version of the cocksure shtick we’ve come to expect from him, but the mind games and dialogue between the two fail to ignite many sparks; it’s essentially Washington being philosophical and Reynolds scratching his head. 

Everything about this is just run-of-the-mill; the action is not as frequent as you might expect and more often than not Bourne-lite, as are numerous fisticuffs in narrow corridors. The use of an on-screen clock at intervals hints at a 24 style race against time which never materialises. In fact the comparisons with that show are also evident in the game of “spot the C.I.A. mole”, something you’ll be able to work out five minutes after the character is introduced. 

The South African locations help establish a claustrophobic vibe which gives the movie an intensity that the plot can’t match, and the use of the Soccer City football stadium is the only time the action really kicks off above the pedestrian levels of the opening 40 minutes. 

Overall it’s something of an anti-climax given the explosive, Jay-Z accompanied trailer and the talent involved. It’s easy but oh-so-tempting to say that Safe House is just too darn safe.