Universal // 2012 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 29th, 2012
No one is safe.
What would you do if you had to keep Denzel Washington safe from international hit men? If you're like 99.9% of the women I know, you'd sneak him into your bedroom and ply him with champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, and Barry White music. If you're Ryan Reynolds, you bust your hump to get him to a Safe House, now available on Blu-ray care of Universal Home Entertainment.
Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is an ex-CIA operative who has become an infamous international criminal. In possession of a secret file from a rouge MI-6 agent (Liam Cunningham, Game of Thrones) that could do a lot of damage to the government's higher ups, Frost is chased down by some mercenaries and ends up escaping into an American consulate where he's put in a CIA safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. In charge of this particular operation is Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds, Green Lantern), a low-level agent who is trying to impress his superiors. During Frost's interrogation, the safe house is compromised, forcing Matt to escape with Frost into the city's seedy underbelly. Attempting to stay a few steps ahead of the bad guys, Matt must figure out how to keep Frost alive, or lose not only the most important witness of his career, but also his life.
You just can't help but like Denzel Washington. The man has become so much a part of modern pop culture he's one of the few actors who could (if he wanted to) go by just a single name -- Denzel -- and everyone would instantly know who you were talking about. Washington's body of work is unprecedented. From his first uncredited role in the Charles Bronson's Death Wish, Denzel has portrayed everything from war heroes (Glory) and historical leaders (Malcolm X) to sports legends (The Hurricane) and post apocalyptic prophets (The Book of Eli). Along the way, he's embodied the persona of a proud African American male, a dutiful Christian, and a loving husband/father. As an actor, Washington has no equal. As a man, he's learned how to make a difference in the world.
All of that to say I respect Denzel Washington as an actor. In Safe House, Washington portrays yet another complicated figure, not far removed from other anti-heroes he's played in films like Training Day and American Gangster. It takes a special actor to embody pure good. It takes an incredible performer to make us care for a man who has clearly done much wrong to himself and others. Tobin Frost (a great character name if ever there was one) is such a character. A renegade CIA agent, Frost is the kind of guy you root for, even as you're hoping he never sees the light of day. If there is anything great about Safe House, it's that Washington's character is always fascinating to watch.
It's a shame then that Safe House is a mostly route, run-of-the-mill action thriller that, while at times entertaining, never rises above its genre roots. While I wasn't bored, I was also never surprised by where the film took us. There are a lot of chase sequences, and just as many scenes where top government officials discuss strategies on how to obtain Frost, keep Frost, and get information from Frost. The film tries to be timely, by showing Robert Patrick's (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) character water-boarding Frost, which ends up being one of the best scenes in the film (kudos to the filmmakers for actually making me squirm). And yet the whole thing gets bogged down by redundancy. If you've seen one car chase where a guy with handcuffs is choking the guy driving, you've seen them all.
Ryan Reynolds is the other A-lister featured in the film, though compared to Washington he gets the short end of the stick. Reynolds does fine with the role, but all he's really asked to do is to transport Frost from point A to point B. He runs, he shoots, he jumps, he tries to impress his bosses, he gets really angry at people trying to kill him. He's only a few clichés away from being "a cop on the edge." A few other recognizable actors wander into the fray (including Up in the Air Oscar nominee Vera Fermiga, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's Brendan Gleeson) who do little more than bark orders at subordinates and offer us exposition.
Director Daniel Espinosa (working on his first English language Hollywood film) keeps things moving along, though the whole thing often feels like one of the Bourne movies, set in a slightly different location with slightly different characters. The camera shakes a lot and I had a hard time distinguishing what was going on in some of the action scenes. I'd complain more, but the crazy Michael Bay style editing seems to be where Hollywood has set up camp for the moment. I'm longing for the days when you could decipher an action sequence without being hopped up on cocaine and caffeine.
Presented in 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen, the image retains a fine filmic look (a small layer of grain is present, but in appropriate amounts) and the colors are well saturated. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is one of the best tracks I've heard in a long time; the viewer is dropped right into the action with gunfire, screeching car tires, and explosions going off in every direction. Viewers with a fully functioning surround system will be thrilled with the way Safe House sounds. Also are DTS 5.1 mixes in Spanish and French, as well as English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Bonus features include the U-Control picture-in-picture functionality, a batch of short featurettes ("Making Safe House," "Hand-to-Hand Action," "Building the Rooftop Chase," "Inside the CIA," "Shooting the Safe House Attack," "Behind the Action," "Safe Harbor: Cape Town") that take a look at pre and post production, a standard def DVD Copy, and a digital copy.
Safe House is a slightly above average action thriller that offers Denzel Washington a meaty role and everyone else a chance to try and catch him. It'll make for a fun Friday night rental.
Issues aside, I was entertained. Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* Official Site