Movie review: ‘Safe House’ a safe haven for spy-movie fans
Take that, Matt Damon!
When it comes to tire-screeching, fender-mangling car chases, death-dealing bursts of violence, brutal gunplay and cunning games of cat-and-mouse spy craft, Ryan Reynolds’ solitary CIA soldier in the rapid-fire “Safe House” is every bit as butch, buff and battered as Damon in the Bourne cycle of espionage thrillers.
The Bourne reference seems entirely apt here because “Safe House” director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriter David Guggenheim (both relative newcomers) seem to take most of their cues for breathless pacing, complicated plotting and chaotic, big-bang action set pieces from the Robert Ludlum playbook.
Alongside Reynolds’ fresh young CIA agent Matt Weston, a potent Denzel Washington delivers an ominously silky, charmingly roguish performance as cynical CIA case officer Tobin Frost, a legendary agent who “went off the reservation” years earlier and has been selling state secrets on the black market to the highest bidders.
The tale is set in teeming Cape Town, South Africa, were the ambitious Weston is stuck in a dead-end assignment watching over an urban “safe house” that the agency uses as a clandestine refuge for endangered “assets” on the run.
After a quick and deadly opening sequence, in which the outlaw Frost obtains top secret, incriminating documents from a British MI6 colleague, Frost finds himself dodging gunfire from a resourceful gang of thugs and forced to seek asylum at the U.S. Consulate. Finally in the CIA’s custody after years on the run, Frost is bound and hooded and transported to a sterile interrogation room at Weston’s safe house.
Soon, a squad of cold-blooded CIA spooks arrives to question Frost under dire duress (read that: water boarding). But their harsh interrogation is cut short by the arrival of those relentless armed goons, and quickly Weston finds himself on the run with a handcuffed Frost in tow and with big-wigs from the CIA’s Langley, VA., headquarters (notably, furrow-browed Vera Farmiga and sharkish Brendan Gleeson) barking long-distance orders. Sam Shepard weighs in with an oily political agenda as CIA director Harlan Whitford.
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