Brilliant former CIA agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) turned rogue nine years ago, betraying assets and selling military codes. He has avoided capture - until now. Frost is taken to a safe house in South Africa, under the watch of rookie CIA 'housekeeper' Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), who aspires to be a fully fledged case officer and is frustrated by his backwater post. But the safe house is attacked by mercenaries and Weston is forced to go on the run, taking the dangerous operative with him as his prisoner. Meanwhile Weston's CIA superiors Chief Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga), Case Officer David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) and Deputy Director of Operations Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepard) try to arrange a new safe house where Weston can take his charge.
Review by Louise Keller:
There's a scene in this gritty spy thriller in which Denzel Washington's former top CIA operative Tobin Frost puts a gun to rookie agent Matt Weston's (Ryan Reynolds) head. The words 'I only kill professionals' pierce with almost as much pain had they been bullets, as the rookie is released and Frost makes his escape. The powerful pairing of Washington and Reynolds as the cynical and idealistic agents respectively has plenty of promise, although the decision by director Daniel Espinosa to use relentless and dizzying hand-held camera work intrudes on what could be a far more powerful and enjoyable film.
Everyone betrays everyone, Frost tells Weston, although it is clear that Weston, who aspires to be a case officer, while contending with the monotony of his role of 'housekeeper' at a safe house in South Africa (where everyone speaks in code), has a far more ideological view of life. Frost is a high profile fugitive since turning rogue nine years earlier, when he began selling military codes to the highest bidder and betraying assets to enemies of the state. Now, armed with a microchip containing explosive information, he is captured and brought into custody at the safe house. Forced to go on the run after a devastating attack by mercenaries, Weston's responsibilities suddenly skyrocket with Frost as his prisoner, as he tries to find a new safe house.
The car chase scene, in which Frost has been imprisoned in the boot, is one of the most exciting, with Frost wriggling free through the car interior, while Weston zigzags through the traffic and bullets ricochet in all directions. I had to look away in the scene in which shards of glass are used as weapons. But it is the developing relationship between Frost and Weston that is the film's highlight, as the cynic and idealist modify their respective views. It's good to see Washington onscreen again after a couple of years' absence and Reynolds is terrific as the rookie who gets a tough initiation. Great support too, from Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard and Robert Patrick as CIA agents, while Nora Arnezeder makes an impression as Weston's lovely French girlfriend, who has no idea what her boyfriend really does for a living.
Stylistically frantic, I had to concentrate hard to make sure I didn't miss any major plot points. It's as though Espinosa has taken David Guggenheim's screenplay with all its elements and shaken them vigorously in a cocktail blender to get his splintered result.
First published in the Sun Herald
Email this article
SAFE HOUSE (M)
CAST: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Robert Patrick, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Joel Kinnaman, Sam Shepard, Liam Cunningham, Nora Arnezeder
PRODUCER: Scott Stuber
DIRECTOR: Daniel Espinosa
SCRIPT: David Guggenheim
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Oliver Wood
EDITOR: Richard Pearson
MUSIC: Ramin Djawadi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Brigitte Broch
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 9, 2012