Safe House starring Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds | Film Review

Trailers are an art form within themselves. The director has anything between 30 seconds to four minutes to convince you that of all of the movies out there, this is the movie you want to watch. All the while, trying to find a fine balance between revealing important plot lines, scenes, cameos or just general giveaways that would tempt you to invest in their product. Some, literally, can qualify as stand-alone shorts, while others are cheap commercials who give away all the gags while implying there is more. All in all, we can all agree how crucial they have become crucial in the film making process. This brings me neatly to the film at hand…

Safe House has, for all intents and purposes, an excellent trailer. We are promised to see an imperious Denzel Washington playing both the action star we have become accustomed to and a Hannibal Lecter-esque cerebral star that will unravel our beloved rookie Ryan Reynolds. All of this was wrapped up cleverly by the excellent “No Church in The Wild” by Kanye West and Jay Z in the background. It seemed like we were in for a treat.

We weren’t.

The movie couldn’t be more by-the-numbers if it tried. David Guggenheim must have written this script during a horrible bout of writer’s block. The lack of originality is quite simply astonishing. While suspension of belief is a pre requisite of any movie with the dreaded ‘Action/Thriller’ tag, you actually have to simply not care for any narrative structure to justify this.

How many times will we see a car chase where the driver ‘luckily’ has rally driver capabilities, villains that simply can’t aim as opposed to the sniper heroes, multiple car crashes with no injuries (it usually takes one to kill or hospitalise you), higher ups disagreeing with your decision to save the day, Any character whose name is not named in the billboard dies quickly and unceremoniously etc etc etc.

There is a template and it is heavily followed here. The now standard shaky camera is supposed to give it a sense of urgency, which it quite frankly didn’t need. No one was allowed more than a few lines before director Daniel Espinosa thought it was time for another car chase or a brutal fist fight.

We get some sketchy character backgrounds, which again, you probably feel like you heard before. For instance, Denzel’s character Tobin Frost (only in movies can you be named Tobin Frost) is supposed to be a psychological mastermind and legendary CIA man, but we only know this by what other people say.

Another character (Ruben Blades in a wonderful cameo) calls him ‘The Black Dorian Gray’ and we really don’t actually see any true evidence of this. We simply take it in faith. Side Note: While this movie is littered with plot holes, the worst one must be the one featuring Ruben Blades. Without spoiling too much, suffice to say he is supposed to be a hard to find man that is really easy to find.

The biggest problem is that the characterisations are too black and white. Tobin Frost is supposed to be an anti-hero but we rarely see him as that. We just see him being hunted by people that look really bad. We never question his morality.

Ryan Reynolds is too much a goody two shoes who simply can’t suddenly be that good of a shot, driver, field agent etc that soon. His girlfriend may as well been played by a computer generated character. The villains aren’t given context so its really a race to when they die. Lazy, lazy writing.

What does elevate this movie from being a straight to DVD Van Damme vehicle is the casting and the performances. Denzel is simply majestic in anything he does. It is an absolute shame that an actor of his calibre is so rarely in films that can demonstrate his phenomenal range. He is autopilot here, which incidentally is more than most actors when they put in their best performances.

In addition to him the support ranges from solid to excellent performances. Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepard are all very good here. Vera Farmiga seems to be wasted on a role that anyone could have played, but generally speaking the actors all put in the maximum you could with such a wafer thin script. Ryan Reynolds, does his career no harm with the shift he has put in here.

VERDICT: Action-packed, empty movie with canyon-like plot holes saved by Denzel’s charm and some strong performances. Wait for the DVD.

Safe House is showing in cinemas now; visit safehousefilm and for further information.

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