Rainey’s Review: Denzel enters the CIA in “Safe House”

Jonathan Rainey, Staff Writer

CIA intrigue and lies.  You’ve seen it before, and here it is again with “Safe House.” The film, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds and directed by Daniel Espinosa, fails to break any new ground on the tiring spy genre.

Ryan Reynolds plays the character of Matt Weston, a bright young CIA agent placed in charge of the relatively low-key safe house in Cape Town, South Africa.  For Weston, it’s not a bad gig, but nothing ever happens, and he hopes for reassignment.

Tobin Frost, played by Denzel Washington, is a CIA agent gone rogue who has been on the run for several years.  Frost unexpectedly pops up on the radar again when he goes into a U.S. consulate while escaping from a band of nameless assassins tracking him for a piece of vital information which he carries.

Immediately, the CIA takes Frost to the safe house to await transport back to the U.S. However, the safe house is assaulted by the assassins and Weston makes it out alive with Frost as his captive.  For the remainder of the film, Weston’s job is keeping Frost alive until the CIA can get an extraction team to South Africa.

I found the film difficult to get into and difficult to sympathize with Weston’s character.  At the beginning of the film he is just a low-key CIA agent who is bored with his job and has little else remarkable about him.  His only standout feature seems to be that he can tell lies to his girlfriend quite well – probably a trait inherent to CIA agents.  After Weston escapes with Frost, I began to feel slightly more sympathetic because Weston becomes the recipient of all the lies. By this time though, it was too late.

The character of Frost, on the other hand, is interesting.  From the start, he is enigmatic.  It is difficult to tell whose side he might be on, if any side, and what ends he is trying to reach.

He is conflicted, mostly with himself, about the right response to Weston holding him captive.  On one side, he feels the necessity to help the young agent, trying to help him understand the depth of lies that he is in.  On the other side of things, he wants to break all contact and escape off the radar once more.  It proves to be an interesting conflict of ideals within the character, and Denzel Washington shows his acting experience by pulling off the duality very well.

On the visual side of things, “Safe House” does not break any conventions.  Fights, chases and gun battles are filmed with the usual shaky camera technique.  I don’t usually mind the style, but it was overdone in “Safe House.”  I often found myself wondering exactly what was happening in fights just because of the motion.

“Safe House” is not a bad film; it simply doesn’t break any conventions or add anything new to the genre and is mostly forgettable.  Washington does a fine job acting, but his performance alone fails to pull the film out of the firmly mediocre ground.