Movies: "Safe House" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "Safe House"
Movies: "Safe House"

 “Safe House” is a rock ‘em-sock ‘em “Bourne”-style chase thriller with three things going for it:  it’s directed by a talented, 34-year old Swedish filmmaker (with the unlikely name of Daniel Espinoza), it’s set in colorful Cape Town, South Africa, and it stars Denzel Washington.

It also gives Ryan Reynolds a shot at something better than whatever else he’s been in lately.  

 

Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a young CIA agent whose sole job is to man the agency’s safe house in Cape Town, keeping it prepared for unexpected “house guests.”

He’s got a pretty, French girlfriend (Nora Arnezeder) and the ear of a high-level spy handler in Washington (the great Brendan Gleeson), but he’s bored and frustrated... that is, until a certain Tobin Frost (Denzel) turns up on his doorstep under heavy CIA guard.

 

And when the safe house is attacked by a dozen gunmen, young Matt’s nascent skills in spycraft and hand-to-hand combat will be put to all sorts of tests. 

 

“Safe House” starts off with Tobin Frost being chased through downtown Cape Town and basically never lets up for a moment.  We never know when a sudden killshot will blast someone nearby, or a black Range Rover will come out of nowhere, crashing into a getaway car.  There are several such jolts throughout the movie and they are very effectively staged:  you will jump out of your seat, I promise.   

 

The only problem is that we’ve seen much of this stuff before, particularly in the “Bourne” films.  In fact the cinematographer for “Safe House”, Oliver Wood, shot all three of them.  (Moviegoers will even get a preview of the next “Bourne” movie, starring Jeremy Renner in place of Matt Damon.)  The screenplay by David Guggenheim refries the usual double crosses, with agents mouthing lines like, “People don’t want the truth, it keeps them up at night.”

 

But let’s give “Safe House” its due.  It’s a crackerjack version of the old familiar, and Denzel Washington, who is now 57, is as jaunty as ever as a renegade agent on the run from just about everyone in South Africa.  He and Reynolds get some solid support from such old hands as Sam Shepard as the CIA Director, Vera Farmiga as an agency analyst, Robert Patrick (“The Unit”) as a tough gunslinger and, best of all, Ruben Blades in a touching cameo as a retired forger now living in a South African shantytown.

 

An old friend of mine once saw a movie poster in West Africa that advertised, “Plenty of Blows.”  That’s what “Safe House” delivers, in high style.

 

It’s rated R for gun, fist, knife and broken glass mayhem.  I give it a B.

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