The type of thrillers that "Safe House" resembles, aren't that uncommon. They have a distinct visual style and pace while they are full to the top with some amazing talent in front of the camera. People whom I've talked to have personally said that they don't see much difference between something like this and say a movie from earlier this year like Haywire. They feel that at the end of the day- a bunch of people pull guns on each other, stuff goes 'boom', and you have your quick movie-entertainment fix for the week. Yet I see a world of difference between a movie like Haywire or The Grey and others like Act of Valor or Safe House. I think it comes down to the fact that this "style" I've mentioned, needs to be used for something more than just providing eye candy. When it starts to meld, mix, and mesh with all the other aspects of filmmaking and storytelling that are available at the filmmaker's fingertips, then you have films that are more worth your time than others.
This is director Daniel Espinosa's fourth film and his first American one after the huge success of Sweden's Easy Money (2010). From a cinematographic and editing standpoint this movie is flashy, quick, moody, glossy, and during action scenes the visuals are especially popping out at you and lending itself to sensory overload. This has got that handicam/visual realism that pretty much means everyone who talks about the movie is required to reference the word "Bourne". I actually found myself immediately thinking of Tony Scott and the visual reference point only stayed in my head longer because the lead of this film, Denzel Washington, is a regular collaborator of Scott. Unfortunately with Safe House, you have this flashy looking movie, but with such a shallow and basic plot, this quickly resmembles the lesser films of the Scott brothers filmography where everything looks cinematic, but it's tedious and uninvolving to watch because of the said weaknesses in plot.
The film follows Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a CIA agent in South Africa who runs a safe house. When a U.S. black ops unit drops by with their prisoner, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), the safe house is attacked as Frost and Weston go on the run and try to stay a step ahead of their pursuers while figuring out who in the CIA might have given up their location. Washington is such as master-act that even when the films are at their weakest he is capable of adding layers of watchability just by the factor of his involved performance. No matter what the role, Washington's portrayals seem so committed and this film is no exception. Ever since Training Day casted him against type, we've seen Washington take on more villainous roles, with American Gangster probably being the best example after his Oscar win for the other film. To have Washington play a manipulative villain could present a problem in that he is treading over previously notable territory from his career. In the end, Tobin Frost feels like if Alonzo Harris worked for the CIA, but that is more a comment on the script than Washington's portrayal.
Reynolds is able to carry a film very well, but he has been in action-blockbusters that haven't received the highest acclaim (last year's Green Lantern). At the end of the day, the characters they are playing are just as unique as this film. They are all style with no substance. Safe House is fun to watch, but provides very little food for thought.