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Safe House

Safe House

Released 24 February 2012
Director Daniel Espinosa

Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Robert Patrick, Sam Shepard, Liam Cunningham, Rubén Blades
Writer(s) David Guggenheim
Producer(s) Scott Stuber
Origin United States, South Africa
Running Time 115 minutes
Genre Action, crime
Rating 15A

Bourne’s real legacy.

Younger readers may not remember this but there was a time that spy thrillers were all tuxedos, sophistication and exotic locations. The Bond movies were the obvious template, and apart from the odd grim cold-war film, your average movie spy could look forward to bedding beautiful women, drinking fancy cocktails, battling outlandish super-villains and dispensing with them with delightfully gimmicky weapons.

Then a chap called Jason Bourne had to come along and ruin things with his heightened sense of realism. Now it’s all changed and instead of quirky weapons and witty one-liners, it’s sweaty hand-to-hand combat and killing your enemy with mundane household items like toasters and kitchen knives. Instead of your megalomaniac super-villain with a HQ in the middle of a volcano, the enemy is shadowy governments, most likely your own. Even the Bond movies have conformed and certainly there were elements in the franchise reboot that was Casino Royale that were more Bourne than classic 007. There are certainly more than a few nods to Bourne in Safe House.

Ryan Reynolds stars as lowly CIA operative Matt Weston. Stationed in Cape Town in South Africa, he had the thankless job of maintaining the local agency ‘safe house’. It’s pretty mundane work and he pesters his boss Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) to be given a chance at a role in the field. Meanwhile legendary super-spy Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is in town to do a deal with a treacherous British agent (Liam Cunningham). Frost is ex-CIA agent who betrayed them several years back and went into business for himself. He’s there to buy a flash-drive that exposes the dirty deeds of intelligence communities worldwide. It’s not long before shadowy assassins target him and in desperation he surrenders to the US embassy in the city.

Back at Langley C.I.A. bosses Vera Farmiga and Sam Shepard are excited to have captured such a prize asset. Tobin is taken into custody and is held at Weston’s safe house, pending transfer back to America. A team of soldiers led by Kiefer (Robert Patrick) are brought in to interrogate Tobin using methods that Dick Cheney would heartily approve of. However the safe house proves considerably less than safe and shortly afterwards the team of assassins storm the place and Weston just about escapes with Tobin. Tobin manages to lose him but the inexperienced Weston defies his orders and stays on his trail.

This is passably entertaining stuff, even if there is nothing original in the story. Yes, the twists that arrive are well signposted but it moves along at a decent enough pace so that you don’t notice too much. Washington is fine in the lead, although he might have had more fun if his character was a proper evil villain. Reynolds is dull but just about competent, which counts as a resounding success by his normal low standards. Gleeson does his normal gruff American accent and doesn’t disgrace himself but Farmiga is somewhat wasted in an underwritten role.

Swedish director Daniel Espinosa keeps things moving well enough although some of the fight scenes are somewhat choppily edited and a little confusing. Overall though, this is a reasonably decent modern espionage movie, although it’s doubtful it will remain in the memory for very long.

- Jim O’Connor