Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Safe House

It was Ben Franklin who once espoused that death and taxes are the only sure things in life, but that’s because he never saw a Denzel Washington movie.  Because the one thing that we can all be sure of is that Denzel always delivers a strong performance that is both complex and loaded with conviction.  Crimson Tide, Training Day, Remember the Titans, Philadelphia – he consistently makes good choices as an actor.  Heck, the man is even entertaining when he is being parodied (as in this skit).

With Ryan Reynolds…not so much.  It appears to be feast or famine when it comes to movies featuring the man formerly known as Van Wilder.  And coming on the heels of two very subpar movies in The Change-Up and Green Lantern, Reynolds was definitely in need of a hit.  So as I settled into my seat to watch Safe House, I wondered if this was going to be more of a Denzel movie or more of a Ryan Reynolds movie.   

And the answer is…a fair amount of both.

All the usual elements are present in this CIA-centric action flick - rogue agents, foreign assassins, double crosses galore, and a young idealistic protagonist.  Director Daniel Espinosa does a decent job of keeping these plot pieces moving via high-speed car chases, hand-to-hand combat, and a hailstorm of bullets.  There seems to be a sense of motion that perpetuates throughout the film.  My major beef with the cinematography is the overly gratuitous use of the unsteady camera.  In moderation, it serves a purpose.  When abused, it induces nausea.  In Safe House, the filming technique was definitely abused.

As for the cast, overall the principles do a good job.  Washington and Reynolds mesh well as there is a complex duality that underlies the contrast between their respective characters - namely veteran vs. newbie and cynic vs. idealist.   Likewise, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, and Sam Shepard do a nice job portraying CIA suits whose ethics rely on the "varying degrees of gray" scale.  Really though, the driving force in this film is the intense action sequences.  

On the strength of those sequences alone, I recommend this film although I could do so with more conviction had things not unraveled a bit at the end.  It really is unfortunate that the answer to the whodunit question can be seen from a mile away and that the payoff to the film asks for a little too much suspension of common logic.  However, watching Reynolds and Washington fight would-be assassins and each other proves worthy of your time and money.  Big screen or in the comfort of your own home you really can’t go wrong either way.

Standout Performance: Ruben Blades delivered some fantastic lines during one of the few respites from the action.


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