Written By: David Guggenhiem
Edited by: Richard Pearson
Starring: Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds
This weekend I finally got round to watching the Cape Town based spy-thriller Safe House, more out of love for my city than any great excitement for the film itself as I had heard mixed reviews. My overall impression of the film was that it was desperately trying to be a Bourne-esque thriller with the look and feel of Tony Scott’s direction. However despite these legitimate aspirations they are no substitute for the basics which were lacking – solid and original story coupled with dynamic and engaging characters and performances. In a nutshell, it was Cape Town that was the star of the show for me.
The film starts off in a flurry of undercover meetings and spying glances from hidden observers with little being revealed as to what is happening. Denzel Washington’s character Tobin Frost is a CIA agent who’s ‘gone rogue’ and is now being hunted by some comically typical looking villains through the streets of Cape Town. In his attempt to flee Frost makes his way to the US Embassy in Cape Town where his name is picked up by the CIA in Langley. My mind immediately flashed back to Bourne Identity where Jason Bourne walks into the Zurich embassy after years of being off the grid. Similarity number one, check.This weekend I finally got round to watching the Cape Town based spy-thriller Safe House, more out of love for my city than any great excitement for the film itself as I had heard mixed reviews. My overall impression of the film was that it was desperately trying to be a Bourne-esque thriller with the look and feel of Tony Scott’s direction. However despite these legitimate aspirations they are no substitute for the basics which were lacking – solid and original story coupled with dynamic and engaging characters and performances. In a nutshell, it was Cape Town that was the star of the show for me.
Unfortunately the story line boasts little originality. Ryan Reynolds plays the role of low-level CIA officer Matt Weston stationed in Cape Town desperately in search of a better posting elsewhere. The attempt at this backstory in the opening frames of the film is appreciated but it’s all pretty obvious what’s happening; ‘CIA agent dying for more action doesn’t realize the biggest day of his career is just around the corner…’ You can see it unravel before its begun.
Towards the end of the car chase and broken window saturated narrative there is a slight twist and reveal of who the real villain is and thus an attempts to vindicate Tobin Frost. But once again if you’ve seen the Bourne series, it’s nothing new. They may as well have cast Brian Cox from Bourne Supremacy and asked him to just repeat his performance for Safe House – a high level CIA officer who’s actually the villain!
Another problem with Safe House is that attention is divided between the two main characters Weston (Reynolds) and Frost (Washington). Tobin has all the potential but can’t deliver whereas Weston has all the attention and doesn’t deliver. Matt Weston is the focal point of the narrative given his backstory and love interests but I found my attention constantly drawn to the A-list Washington hoping there’d be more to him than a cold deadly face. I felt that more effort should have been dedicated to making Frost more of a villain. Give me reason to not like him so that when the twist comes towards the end I’m genuinely surprised and emotionally invested. Instead I never really invested into his character which left me pretty unfazed when the twists are revealed. It wasn’t the emotional roller coaster it could have been. As for Reynolds – he looks like Damon but can’t act like Damon. Enough said.
From a technical point of view I quite enjoyed the look and feel. Critics have complained about the overly saturated look of film but I didn’t mind that. The editing had a Bourne feel which is understandable as the films shared the same editor. I enjoyed the cut and thrust of chases and the close quarter fight scenes except for the initial siege on the safe house. However one major problem I had was the lighting continuity during some of the fights scenes at night. This is not only limited to Safe House but it was noticeable enough to comment. There will be an exterior shot at night followed by a fight scene indoors but for some reason all the windows are white as though the sun is streaming through. Most people may not notice but I think it warrants a mention. I’m always left wondering how the director explains these blatantly obvious lights in their sets.
So where does that leave us? Well Safe House is not the worst movie you could watch (see Thor review below) and it does offer some fun action sequences. But overall it doesn’t offer anything new. Reynolds fails to convince and Washington isn’t given the scope to flourish. There is enough story to keep you hanging around waiting for more but it never really gets out of second gear. Overall it was the Mother City that impressed me more than anything else.
Plot and Development: 6/10
Characters and Performance – 5.5
Directing and Edit – 6.10
Quality Rating 58%
Entertainment Rating 60%