Thursday, 8 March 2012

Not quite psychological warfare: Safe House review

This review can also be found at The Yorker, here.

Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is an ex-CIA agent who's widely respected and somewhat feared by intelligence agencies worldwide for two reasons. Firstly, he's a psychological genius; secondly, he makes a living stealing governmental secrets and selling them for astronomical amounts. This is the kind of anti-hero that you'd love to see in an action-thriller; someone capable of baffling his foes and still asserting an air of confidant dominance.

©wiki commons
Unfortunately, Safe House is not that movie. Instead, we get another loud, somewhat obnoxious action film with more emphasis on gunfights than any kind of character interaction. Denzel doesn't get to be the main character; that accolade instead goes to Ryan Reynolds, playing as Matt Weston - the keeper of a South African safe house that Tobin has been kept in to be interrogated by the CIA.

Nor is there much in the way of clever mind games, with the exception of two scenes. Admittedly those scenes do a good job of demonstrating Tobin's skills, but generally I found myself far more interested in his story and motivations, rather than the generic Milquetoast protagonist I'd been lumped with.

I suppose the worst part of action films like this is that they rely almost a little too heavily on the gun-play - so any points where there's a lull in the shooting and screaming, the pace takes a complete nosedive - a real issue when the film is two hours. I found myself dozing off at around the hour mark before being awoken to the sound of a car being crashed through something.

An odd point of note is the agency secrets that Tobin safeguards through the film. Due to the 'in the near future' setting, this McGuffin isn't as present - spending most of the film lodged in Tobin's flesh. Then, once that plot hook resolves, the impact is really rather understated.

Safe House has a decent cast, and leads with some rather interesting plot hooks, but it fails to deliver on all accounts.

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