DIR/WRI: Boaz Yakin • PRO: Lawrence Bender, Dana Brunetti • DOP: Stefan Czapsky • ED: Frédéric Thoraval • Cast: Jason Statham, Chris Sarandon, James Hong
Safe is a relatively low-budget (€30m) Jason Statham vehicle. That’s practically a genre onto itself this weather. And with that genus comes certain stigma. The plot is secondary, the action takes centre stage and Statham commands most scenes, carrying them with his own impossible magnetism.
Safe however, plays it anything but and results in the Stath’s best action effort for ten straight years! Jason Crank has been saddled with the ‘Clinical Assassin’ archetype for years now. Safe represents a significant leap back in the proper direction for our beloved, bald bruiser. Here’s he’s given a chance to flex his dramatic muscles, and not simply those (scarcely) hidden under his clothing.
In Safe, we get to see the mighty Cranker himself cry. With tears and everything. He also gets worried, scared, panics and even vomits from the emotional trauma of bulleting someone’s brain!
Safe isn’t exactly a drama, but a significantly higher level of acting is called for throughout Safe’s narrative, and Statham steps up as you’d expect. As the Crank series proved he can do ‘hyperactive, manic cartoon person’, Safe proves he’s just as comfortable portraying ‘human-being’.
Safe also tackles themes such as corruption, remorse, homelessness and suicide in more than a simply perfunctory manner. Again, it’s hardly a detailed analysis of these issues, but the fact they even feature in Boaz Yakin’s action debut surprises and delights.
First and foremost, though, Safe is an action film. And while it doesn’t re-invent the genre like Gareth Evans’ The Raid, not since 2002’s The Transporter has Jason Statham’s handiwork (and footiwork) been so gloriously, brutally visualised. He breaks a trachea at one point. With a dinner plate.
Safe’s pacing starts with a deliberate grind, slow and methodological, forcing the viewer to salivate throughout the first act. Then, finally, inevitably, Safe explodes into life, paced expertly with a series of chases, brawls and gun duels.
The action is presented with clarity and choreographed with imagination. Shots linger on the Cranker as his feet and fists fly, unsullied by choppy cuts. Squibs burst and detritus flies as 45. Rounds find homes in the scenery. Meanwhile, the stuntwork is absurdly good; in one instance viewers follow a pair of flailing stuntmen out a window and onto the awaiting pavement in a single take.
Considering the colour-by-numbers gunfights and obscured, cut-to-ribbons brawls of The Mechanic or Killer Elite, not to mention the ill-fitting, detached caricatures he’s normally saddled with, Safe represents an important moment for Statham’s career.
Safe is an interesting, exhilarating and often sensitive tale, wherein Jason Statham takes the opportunity to prove his worth, both as a capable actor and Hollywood’s last REAL action star.
Unfortunately, I doubt Safe is destined to rake in a fortune at the box office. Similarly, I’d be surprised if many recognize the relevance of what Safe represents for action cinema or its lead’s career trajectory.
I pray I’m wrong.
Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Safe is released on 4th May 2012