DIR: Daniel Espinosa WRI: David Guggenheim PRO: Scott Stuber DOP: Oliver Wood ED: Richard Pearson DES: Briggite Broch Cast: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard

Having earned his second Oscar (after his first as Best Actor in a Leading Role) for playing mentor to Ethan Hawke’s rookie in Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day, it came as no surprise when Denzel Washington opted for a similar role in Tony Scott’s fast-paced 2010 thriller, Unstoppable, alongside Chris ‘Captain Kirk’ Pine.

Fast forward to 2012, and we find the now 57-year-old Malcolm X star once again sparking off a younger co-star (Ryan Reynolds) in Daniel Espinosa’s third feature, Safe House, with decidedly mixed results.

Set in the South African city of Cape Town, Washington is the enigmatic Tobin Frost, a former CIA Agent who, a number of years after going rogue, walks into a US consulate having acquired a valuable piece of information from an MI6 operative (our very own Liam Cunningham), which has put his life in immediate danger. As a result, he is transferred to the titular ‘safe house’, where Reynolds’ low-level agent serves as a ‘housekeeper’.

Here, he is interrogated by a sinister Robert Patrick and his team but, as is invariably the case in films of this nature, their secret location becomes compromised, and Reynolds’ Weston is forced on the run with Frost in tow. What follows is a standard ‘nuts and bolts’ action thriller, as the previously disposable Weston suddenly becomes the man of the hour, a welcome relief from the mundanity of his usual brief.

With the visually stylish Espinosa at the helm (his previous release, Easy Money, was a massive hit in his native Sweden), Safe House does work rather well as a straightforward genre piece, and is anchored by two strong central performances from Washington and Reynolds. However, there is a sense the whole way through that the film has aspirations to be a rival/companion piece to the Bourne series, something that it falls short of doing by quite some distance.

The presence of Bourne cinematographer Oliver Wood does ensure that the film contains the look of Paul Greengrass’ films (right down to the obligatory frenetic camera work), but David Guggenheim’s wafer-thin script prevents it from achieving the same depth that made the Matt Damon spy franchise such an enduring success.

Certain elements of the plot do hint at something with greater dramatic weight, but as the film moves along (and at 117 minutes it is a good 20 minutes too long), it becomes far too reliant on spectacle over story.

Safe House also fails to fully utilise a fine supporting cast, as the likes of Cunningham, Patrick, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard and Ruben Blades are given precious little to do, with only the dependably excellent Brendan Gleeson (as Reynolds’ Government superior) getting enough screen time to make his presence in the narrative worthwhile.

That being said, there are enough elements in Safe House to suggest that Espinosa may well be a talent to watch out for in the future, and it does have a fascinating lead character in the shape of Tobin Frost, who is played with seemingly limitless charisma by the ever-watchable Washington. Credit must also go to Reynolds for reigning in his normal comic persona, which he seemed to have fallen back into after his career-best work in the extraordinarily intense Buried.

Daire Walsh

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

Safe House is released on 24th February 2012


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