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Safe House - Review

Safe House

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

SWEDISH director Daniel Espinosa’s debut American movie Safe House is a heavyweight action-thriller that makes good use of its formidable assets.

Boasting two powerhouse central performances from Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, an intense and intelligent screenplay from David Guggenheim and some breathtaking action sequences (captured by Bourne cinematographer Oliver Wood), it’s a great slice of adrenaline-fuelled entertainment that only just falls short of becoming an instant classic.

The plot finds Reynolds playing idealistic young CIA agent Matt Weston who is tasked with minding a safe house in South Africa. He pines for more adventure, which duly arrives in the form of Washington’s Tobin Frost, a former CIA agent gone rogue, who has mysteriously turned himself into the authorities.

Within moments of Frost’s arrival for torture assisted debriefing, however, the safe house is compromised and Weston is forced to take charge of the chaos himself, running for cover with Frost as his prisoner and attempting to keep them both alive while figuring out who is sending the assassins on their trail.

Espinosa takes some hot-button topics (Wiki-leaks, terrorism, accountability, etc) and wraps them up in a high-octane chase movie that clearly uses the Bourne movies as its template.

But rather than appearing merely as some pale imitation, this has genuine moments to savour, not least early on as the bodies pile up amid the escalating tension.

An early car chase is particularly thrilling, as are several of the running gun battles, while the interplay between Reynolds and Washington sparkles. The latter is clearly having a ball playing a sociopath who enjoys toying with his young prey, while the former displays a macho bravado that’s nicely offset by his obviously rookie inclinations.

There’s strong support, too, from the likes of Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga and Sam Shepard as potentially turncoat superiors, as well as Ruben Blades, Joel Kinnaman and Liam Cunningham as the equally rogue elements they meet along the way.

While Espinosa also makes good use of his striking South African locations to lend the film its distinct look and feel.

The only things he really fluffs are some of the more predictable elements, including the supposed ‘twists’, and a final act that wraps things up a little too neatly when a little more scepticism and ambiguity would have served best.

In all other regards, however, this is a slick, bruising and frequently exciting piece of work that maximises the potential offered by its central on-screen pairing while serving [mainstream] notice of an impressive new talent behind the camera.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 115mins
UK Release Date: February 24, 2012