The wild card – Safe House review

Safe House – Starring Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds and Brendan Gleeson. Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Safe House has a lot of elements that – stirred together, and sugared to taste – could be expected to produce something of fairly compelling quality. Reliable leads in Denzel Washington (employing his eternally popular bad guy shtick) and Ryan Reynolds; priceless supporting performers Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard and Liam Cunningham; a fairly uncomplicated plot involving CIA subterfuge and backstabbery; nifty car chases. Safe is right. The Bourneaping poster for the film should appear in the dictionary next to the entry for ‘dependable if forgettable by-the-numbers action flick’, should your dictionary list obscure and highly subjective cinematic sub-genres.

But director Daniel Espinosa – a Swedish import making his English-language debut – does not play by the rules of your awesome dictionary. Safe House is a darker, grimier film than you would expect; at times even suffocating and overwhelmingly intense (and not just during the distressing water-boarding scene). Though David Guggenheim’s screenplay ticks the requisite spy-thriller boxes, denying us any narrative surprises, Safe House generates enough genuine startles and provides plenty of aggressive action sequences to elevate it beyond your typical disposable fare.

As mentioned, Washington trots out his chuckling, unhinged baddie act once again – you know whether you love it or hate it by this point in your life – as Tobin Frost, a rogue CIA agent partial to selling national secrets to the enemy. When he acquires a memory card with some truly dangerous intel in South Africa, Tobin finds himself targeted by a mysterious group of assailants. With no choice but to surrender to the U.S. consulate and ensure his survival, he’s escorted to the nearest safe house (hey, that’s the title) for interrogation. Novice agent Matt Weston (Reynolds) is the housekeeper at the Cape Town compound, and he endures a baptism of fire when their location is compromised. Instructed by a variety of CIA handlers (Farmiga, Gleeson, Shepard), Weston must get Frost to another secure location without letting the manipulative cargo inside his head.

The poster isn’t the only thing Safe House has stolen from the Bourne franchise; Espinosa has also nabbed cinematographer Oliver Wood, who brings his trademark shaky-cam to proceedings and does not fail to leave the audience both immersed in the action and experiencing severe bouts of nausea. Still, he’s one of the only DOPs working today that can make this approach seem like an art form instead of an annoyance. Though it’s easy to compare Espinosa’s approach to that of frequent Washington collaborator Tony Scott, Safe House has us interested in not only his earlier – and still unavailable in Australia – pictures, but also as his future projects.

3.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Safe House is now showing in Australian cinemas.

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