‘Safe House’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 27th, 2014 at 3:45 pm,

Safe House Starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds Review Safe House Review

The film is an enjoyable enough ride, but doesn’t offer much substance, or smarts, to go along with all the flash and bang.

In Safe House, Denzel Washington plays Tobin Frost, an expert CIA operative who went rogue and began selling trade secrets to the highest bidder, marking him as one of the most wanted men in the world. When Frost comes to Capetown, South Africa to receive a highly-sensitive piece of information from an MI6 contact, he finds himself surrounded by enemy assassins, with little other choice but to surrender himself to the American Consulate, lest he be shot down in the street.

The calculated risk lands Frost in a CIA safe house managed by rookie agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), who has been itching for a chance to prove himself in the field. Matt sees an opportunity in Frost – but barely a moment after his “house guest” has been secured, the safe house is attacked by the gunmen on Frost’s tail. Matt and Frost go on the lam, trying to stay ahead of their pursuers, while also entering into a deadly cat-and-mouse game of their own.

Director Daniel Espinosa (Easy Money, a.k.a. Snabba Cash) has crafted a non-stop action flick that bounces from one set piece to another, with little time in between for things like character or thematic development. Espinosa’s directorial style is reminiscent of the over-exposed color palette used by director Tony Scott in his own Denzel collaborations like Man on Fire or Unstoppable - although, Scott’s directorial eye and skills are a bit more advanced than Mr. Espinosa’s.

Ryan Reynolds in Safe House1 Safe House Review

Regardless, Espinosa proves to be a solid talent and handles the string of action sequences that constitute this film in a very competent and consistent way. Safe House could’ve very well been titled “Beaten Bloody,” because the action in the film is gritty, bloody, and often as not, extremely loud. The various martial arts duels are shot at close-range but are still discernible, thanks to a reliance on quick-cut editing rather than “shaky-cam” shooting style. The various fist-fights, shootouts and chase scenes are visceral experiences, and achieve a certain level of realism in how the characters react to injuries, battle fatigue, etc. Most action fans will be appeased.

The script by relative newcomer David Guggenheim stumbles through just about every spy movie cliche possible, without ever turning them on their heads or providing fresh insight into familiar themes like betrayal, the soul-eroding nature of professional deception, the ideal of patriotism vs. the reality, etc… Fans of the spy sub-genre will see a lot of the movie’s so-called twists coming from the onset – and beneath all the head-spinning action there is  a clear lack of character and narrative development. We get some light strokes here and there whenever Matt and Tobin stop for one of their brief rests, but a lot of the story and character potential foreshadowed early on ultimately falls by the wayside, making the dramatic moments of the film feel unimportant, and by the time of the climax, unearned.

Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds in Safe House Review Safe House Review

Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds in ‘Safe House’

What elevates Safe House is the presence of Washington – who seems to be portraying a version of Tobin Frost who is complete and well-rounded in his head, if not within the actual movie we get onscreen. As usual, Washington packs depth into every facial expression or line he speaks, and he definitely makes Tobin Frost an engaging and interesting antagonist. Ryan Reynolds holds his own against Washington, and successfully sheds the cocky, wise-cracking persona he’s known for. Matt is a guy who is in way over his head and trying desperately to tread water, and Reynolds conveys that tension and strain pretty well.

The only downside of the performances is that the final evolution of the characters feels more forced than organic, but that’s a small caveat. There are also some notable actors in supporting roles – Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shephard (Black Hawk Down), Joel Kinnaman (The Killing), Robert Patrick - but most of these strong supporting players are underutilized in their bit parts (but again, small caveat).

It’s ok to recommend Safe House to undiscerning action movie fans, or those who are fans of the respective leads. The film is an enjoyable enough ride, but doesn’t offer much substance, or smarts, to go along with all the flash and bang.

Safe House is now in theaters.

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Our Rating:

3 out of 5

TAGS: Safe house
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  1. Saw it at midnight last night, theater was packed and chatty. Expected the movie to be ruined before the lights even went out, However after the AWESOME Prometheus trailer everyone fell silent for a majority of the movie Except for Denzel’s (probably) unintentional one-liners.

    I enjoyed it and am glad it’s not being butchered by critics since this was one of the 4 movies i was looking forward to for the slow movie season, along with Contraband, Grey, and Man on a Ledge.

    It’s like Assault On Precinct 13 and Training Day’s love child.
    It starts out as Assault and becomes Training Day..pretty rad for a February movie (considering this time last year the theater for the midnight showing of ‘The Eagle’ was just me and some fat guys.)

  2. Well, this movie was filmed only a 30 minute drive from where I live, so it’s quite a big deal for me… (since we don’t really get big blockbuster movies shot in SA).
    Even though all the info and trailers so far have seemed pretty “meh” to me, I’ll support this film…
    I really want Hollywood to come film more movies over here in SA (it’s one of the reasons I’m such an avid supporter for a Black Panther movie… South-Africa would be the perfect location for the principal photography), but I digress.

    Great review Kofi, I’ll be sure to check it over the coming few weeks.
    It really seems like a nice “mindless”, fun action movie (exactly the type of thing I can treat me non-movie-buff friends too ;))

  3. Denzel was the man back in the day but now he just be taking anything in his comfort zone,his last great performance was in Hurricane 13 years ago.Training Day was good but it was highly overrated,it was a nice flick everybody enjoyed in the hood and for anybody who loves grimy cop films.It was a nice change up to see him playing a bad guy instead of the typical good guy the general public is use to seeing,that was the only reason he won a oscar and the fact he got robbed for Malcolm X.But i won’t be paying any more money for a Denzel movie,Book of Eli was the last & yea that was one of the very few decent films he done in the last 10 years.

    • Dude are you serious? Training Day got the recognition it deserved.
      Good writing, Good direction, Good acting, Good execution..i see no problems there…i mean i’ll go as far as to admit that the whole russian mafia thing seemed like somebody added it onto the script with sharpie but it worked and still felt ‘earned’ as they say. other than that it’s perfect. Top 20 favorite of mine.

      • Don’t get me wrong i didn’t say it wasn’t good or i didn’t like it,i actually have the movie in my collection.I just think it was way overrated but i would put it somewhere in his top 10 films of all time.

    • The Hurricane was his last great performance? Really? Unstoppable, The Book of Eli, The Great Debaters, Deja Vu, Inside Man, Man on Fire, John Q (I actually felt he deserved the Oscar for this role), Training Day and Remember the Titans were not great performances to you?

      • Unstoppable umm…didn’t like it.I gave credit to Book of Eli but it doesn’t come anywhere near Hurricane or the rest of the films you mentioned.He’s at his best when he plays roles of real people but those films like Deja vu,Inside Man,& Man of Fire is exactlly what im talking about,him being in his lazy comfort zone.He didn’t even wanna do Training Day or Book of Eli it was his adult son who talked him into it.He’s so use to film’s where he’s a go get’em cop which i got tired of long time ago.

    • I agree. :) Inside Man was his last best movie for me. That was in 2006. I liked Book of Eli though but didn’t care for American Gangster :/ He is still a great actor but he is getting stale and stiff imo :{

  4. Interestingly good write up, but I can’t help but wonder if I have been insulted by being called an undiscerning movie fan.

    • :-)

      I just meant those who aren’t overly picky about their action, descrier. Some viewers pick apart every punch or shot in an action scene for “logic” or “realism”, while others are more easygoing and just enjoy movie action for what it is.

      No insult meant!

      • My only beef with the flick is that “Only the CIA” was after him, while he’d been selling dirt on all the spook agencies.

        The stroll through the hallway at the safehouse..bam!! kept it moving. Classic pimp move. LOL!

  5. “…thanks to a reliance on quick-cut editing rather than “shaky-cam” shooting style.”

    All the trailers made it appear to be all shaky cam.

    Is that not the case?

    • See the line you quoted above.

  6. I was hoping for the best with this movie but Rotten Tomatoes has slandered it. This review has convinced me to go and see it. Good review Kofi.

    • Ha, you said Rotten Tomatoes!

  7. @ Kofi
    I recall an article a way back that said that Safe house was on the “Black-list of movie scripts” or something along those lines, do you know any specific reason why? i can’t figure why someone wouldn’t wanna make this movie. it’s..nothing. i mean it’s good but it’s no big deal..

  8. On Frost’s “tale”? On the “lamb”

    Come on SR.

    You have to do better. It’s ‘tail’ and ‘lam’.

    Still love you guys, but, seriously, take the time to check before you post.

    • We check everything. Sometimes mistakes happen. SPOILER ALERT: We’re only human. Just sayin.

  9. Saw the film today, theatre was packed (great to see Denzel can still bring them in). Actually read reviews that gave the film more harsh criticism than it deserves… I mean, yeah sure the story is nothing special, action we’ve seen a dozen times before with every spy film made in the past decade. But there’s something cool about the execution of it and presence of Denzel pulling it off that brought something… smooth to the film that maybe some viewers just won’t get. As far as the performance of Ryan, I thought helayed his part exactly the way he was supposed to; green, inexperienced rookie, learning on the go. This wasn’t a buddy film or partners, there chemistry on screen was meant to be off and uncomfortable until the very end. Overall good, solid film only enhanced by the screen presence and quiet charisma of Mr. D. 3 solid stars.

  10. Hope this wasn’t the same dude that gave Chronicle 4 out of 5, because having seen them both Safe House is CLEARLY the better film of the two in every aspect and I’m a little disappointed that it got only 3 out of 5. I’d agree that there were no real “interesting twists” in Safe House, but Washington is amazing in the film and I really enjoyed his character. Take that and add in some great action scenes and a shockingly good performance from Reynolds, you got a flick worth the $10. Not saying I’m any kind of expert but if you happen to be trying to decided between the two this weekend, go with Safe House it’s much better….and The Grey is better than both haha.

  11. I saw it Saturday night at 7:30pm in the frigid, cold Midwest when there is nothing else to do.

    Denzel and Ryan bring appeal. The cinematography and action kept you from being bored. However, the writing was a complete dog- even for these types of movies.

    Rate: C

  12. Nice seems like a movie I can kick back and take in with some friends after work.

    “Ryan Reynolds holds his own against Washington, and successfully sheds the cocky, wise-cracking persona he’s known for”- this right here is one of the major reasons why I want to see this aside from all the non-stop action of course.

  13. I’d have to agree with this review. Denzel is always great and Reynolds did a good job, but there was something missing. Don’t get me wrong, it was not a bad film, I just felt it could have been better. 3/5 sounds about right to me.

  14. I havent seen the movie yet & thats because two of my bestfriends went to see it and one the guys fell asleep & the other one said he wouldve did the same if he had a blanket & pillow. they said the first 20 minutes was good & after that it ran out of gas. you cant expect for EVERY Denzel movie to be good. all good actors either do or will have a movie thats gonna flop. i think i’ll wait on the blu ray.

  15. I saw it this weekend and it rocked.

  16. Same old story line the top guys are the bad guys. The movie is consumed with car chases, fighting, & shoot outs. The only difference in this movie & the other CIA movie types is the actors. Same old story. Don’t bother to see it at the theatre wait for it to come on tv.

  17. what a waste. seems like the director said: “hey guys, just shoot those guns whenever you get bored”. in addition to the “artsy” shaken camera movements and blood, and car chases …uhm…that is it. Denzel looked quiet bored halfway through. the CIA just can’t catch a break. Hey, Hollywood…someone has gotta come up with a new storyline! this is sooooo old!

  18. Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds make a great action movie that is a must see. Daniel Espinosa has directed an awesome film; it keeps you guessing on what will happen next. As I anticipated the action scenes were seen throughout the movie without overbearing the plot. The action was well directed and not over done. Overall I think all action seekers should see this movie.

  19. I’d see this movie on dvd