Safe House
dir Daniel Espinosa
scr David Guggenheim
prd Scott Stuber
with Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Nora Arnezeder, Ruben Blades, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham, Joel Kinnaman, Sebastian Roche, Jake McLaughlin
release US 10.Feb.12, UK 24.Feb.12
12/US Universal 1h55
Safe House
Driving Mr Ryan: Washington and Reynolds

farmiga gleeson shepard
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Safe House With a cool Cape Town setting and constant sweaty, kinetic violence, this entire film plays like a wildly thrilling segment from a Bourne movie. It's sharply well-made and acted, but nothing about it remotely scratches beneath the surface.

Matt (Reynolds) is a low-level operative watching over the CIA's Cape Town safe house. After months of sitting around waiting, he finally gets to host a notorious guest: most-wanted rogue agent Tobin (Washington). Then violent thugs assault the place and Matt takes Tobin on the run, calling his handler (Gleeson) in Langley to get help from senior agents (Farmiga and Shepard). But there's clearly a leak in the ranks, and Tobin is obviously carrying something both the good guys and bad guys want.

The film is little more that a series of chase scenes, shoot outs and fistfights, which progress through an increasingly high body count as every encounter turns desperately vicious. Matt must come up with all kinds of inventive ways to keep ahead of the baddies, keep Tobin under control and get out of each scenario alive, all while assuring his local girlfriend (Arnezeder) that he's just fine. But the goons keep coming, so Matt and Tobin are forced to do a bit of bonding.

The calmer moments between the carnage are much more interesting to watch, as both Washington and Reynolds find ways to invest some humanity in their otherwise machine-like roles. They also get to interact with some interesting side characters between the bloodbaths, played by fine scene-stealers like Blades, Cunningham and Patrick. And it helps that all of this happens in the varied, unfamiliar cityscape around Cape Town, which keeps us on our toes too.

But there really is nothing to the film. It's obvious from the start who the mole is, so the crank-up to the big finale lacks momentum or dread. The two female roles are extremely thin, betraying a macho approach to a script that favours hand-to-hand violence over anything more subtle or telling. This also means that once the odyssey of chases and fights reaches its end, they can't really figure out how to end the film in a way that's either satisfying or interesting. But it's fun while it lasts.

cert 15 themes, strong violence 25.Jan.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall