The career of Ryan Reynolds appears to be comprised of two halves: Ryan Reynolds the charming and almost-too-likable heart throb, and Ryan Reynolds the somewhat unconvincing but ultimately pleasant action hero. Actually, that analysis doesn’t give him quite enough credit – ‘Green Lantern’ may have been a complete disaster, but his appearances in ‘Smokin’ Aces’ and ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ deserve more praise than they get. Regardless, it’s safe to say that Reynolds has never really established himself as a hardcore action hero – he’s far too good looking for that, really.
Daniel Espinosa’s ‘Safe House’ finds Reynolds lining up alongside veteran Denzel Washington in a good-cop-hunting-bad-cop scenario down in Cape Town, South Africa. Matt Weston (Reynolds) is a plucky but inexperienced CIA agent tasked with the mundane job of babysitting a vacant safe house – a secure facility used by government agents. Weston’s tedious existence is turned upside-down however when notorious ex-CIA-agent-turned-international-criminal Tobin Frost (Washington) is captured and bought to Weston’s safe house for interrogation. Following a loud shoot-out, and I mean LOUD (think Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’), Frost escapes and the amateur Weston attempts to prove his worth by chasing him down. Along the way there’s the obligatory car chase, a game of cat and mouse in one of the new World Cup football stadiums, a rooftop chase across Cape Town’s slums, before finishing with a dramatic showdown in a secluded farmhouse. There’s a trivial subplot involving a memory drive containing sensitive government information running underneath the main narrative, but it serves only as an irrelevant excuse for the all the running around, gunfights and explosions.
Though the script is well written, with Washington in particular getting the best dialogue, the plot itself is taken straight from a low budget 80’s action flick. The story is woefully predictable; it does exactly what you expect it to do and nothing more – the reveal that one of the behind-the-scenes government agents isn’t as honest as we first thought comes as absolutely no surprise (it’s simply a choice between the equally excellent Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson as to which turns out to be evil). There are moments however that rescue ‘Safe House’ from being simply a bottom shelf action abomination; equal time is devoted to the satisfying action sequences and to the intervening scenes of dialogue – the film never seems as if it’s rushing through the quieter scenes to get to ones with more explosions. Espinosa directs the action cleanly, electing not to copy the popular shaky-camera action of the latter Bourne films, and hypes up the tension in the dialogue scenes with an abundance of extreme close-up shots. Unfortunately the film ends up being far more shaky-plot than shaky-cam. Despite its cut-and-paste story the film never slows its pace or allows you to lose interest – a particularly impressive achievement for an action film that’s just short of two hours long.
Ultimately ‘Safe House’ is a film with a far greater amount of acting talent than it honestly deserves. Though Reynolds appears to be comfortable, Washington is simply too good for his role. Despite there being few scenes that really challenge the Academy Award winner, his outstanding talent shines through nonetheless, particularly in his final, incredibly visceral scenes. A host of impressive supporting actors including Robert Patrick and Rubèn Blades complete the film’s quality cast, all of whom are too reputable to give the film anything less than top quality performances.
Safe House’ won’t be winning any awards this year, but it’s an enjoyable, uncomplicated, throw-away action-thriller with an incredible cast giving consistently solid performances all-round. Does ‘Safe House’ do for Ryan Reynolds what the Bourne films did for Matt Damon and cement him as a bona fide action hero? No, not really. But from the ashes of the disaster of ‘Green Lantern’, Reynolds rises with respectability, sophistication, and, of course, his ridiculous good looks.
Words by Christopher Carter