Published Feb 09, 2012The opening scenes tell the story. Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a fresh-faced CIA agent, has languished at his post in Cape Town, South Africa for one year. He's on the phone with his handler, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), pleading his case: "I'm ready, coach! I'm ready for the big game! Put me in!" is essentially his pitch. Barlow acknowledges his skill and tells him to keep plugging away ― his time will come. Weston slumps back in his chair, continuing with his lonely job minding a CIA safe house.
Enter Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a shadowy figure obviously on the run. Dapper and rugged, sporting a trench coat and hat, he expertly evades capture with impressive hand-to-hand combat and a level of intelligence that outmatches his opponents.
The mysterious Frost then enters the U.S. Embassy, where it's revealed he's an ex-CIA agent. However, he's not just "some guy" who used to work for the Agency, he's a top field agent who rewrote the book on interrogations and who could be relied upon to single-handedly complete missions. Frost has been off the grid for a decade though, detached from the CIA after he began selling secrets to other countries.
With him being taken into custody, seemingly at his behest, it's inevitable that Frost will be sent to safe house for questioning. Naturally it's the safe house Weston is in charge of.
What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse, as the veteran Frost, who supposedly holds a piece of key intelligence he's ready to sell, attempts to physiologically and, eventually, physically outmanoeuvre Weston, who, by default, is called up to the big leagues to guard the prize catch.
The Bourne comparisons are easy to make as the story unfolds, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. A CIA agent returning from the dead always makes for an intriguing tale. And while the film only has one gear, not taking enough time to provide Frost's full back-story or to understand if Weston is mentally ready for this task, the fight scenes possess a level of realism one wouldn't expect from a glossy action-thriller.
Washington is his usual self ― steady, spectacular at times and completely engaging. When Safe House's focus shifts from his character, it languishes, pleading for his next appearance. Reynolds gets to show his chops as well. Much like his character, he gets called up to the big leagues, acting across from Denzel, and he holds his own. His goofy demeanour from past efforts is replaced with grit and determination. Without his performance, even with Washington acting as the anchor, this film would fall flat, and fast.
Safe House provides just enough depth to turn this action-thriller into an entertaining night out. (Universal)