The capricious nature of the post-9/11 American military intelligence has netted many scandals and has been criticized heavily by the 2011 Wikileaks. Hollywood has recently been portraying these scandals and infusing them with double-agent espionage in order to comment on the Bush Administration’s military interests. Safe House does so without being too obvious or making such criticisms a central aspect of the film’s narrative. Instead, the film is an action thriller that utilizes a reversal of Stockholm Syndrome while providing some suspenseful sequences.
Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a CIA agent who runs a elaborate safe house in Cape Town, South Africa, has begun a passionate relationship with Ana (Nora Arnezeder). Meanwhile, MI6 agent Alec Wade (Liam Cunningham) meets with Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), an ex-CIA agent who is deemed a traitor. After shooting Alec in front of Tobin, Vargas (Fares Fares) begins chase Tobin through the streets of Cape Town where Tobin chooses to enter the American Consulate rather than succumb to Vargas. The CIA arrests Tobin and transfers him to the safe house that Weston runs. The agents interrogate Tobin until Vargas’s crew uses massive firepower and forces themselves into the safe house, but Weston escapes with Frost and both are on the run.
How threatening could Vargas be that Frost must relinquish his freedom to the country he betrayed? It is a central question to Safe House that is later explained and drives the film’s suspense. The aforementioned allusions to the political-military scandals that have involved interrogation techniques and leaking sensitive military documents make slight appearances in the film, but creates an eerie atmosphere that leaves room for the audience to question.
Although the film includes many references and allusions to the mentioned issues, the film is mostly filled with foot and car chases and close physical combat. Safe House is essentially every other contemporary action-thriller with a touch of heated, topical issues. With a rather even and suspenseful first act, the film begins to slow down excessively with a variety of egregious action scenes that continue to support the blow ’em up attitude.
Denzel Washington alters his typical action role by portraying a far more calculated and cool character. It is no coincidence that Tobin’s surname is Frost as he is very chilling and maintains no allegiances with the underbelly of espionage, similar to that of the Cold War. Safe House is another point of growth for Ryan Reynolds who has made a name for himself, first as a comedic actor in gross-out comedies, and later in action-suspense and super-hero films. Here he plays a character without gimmicks; he runs a safe house that remains dormant and bides his time with a new romantic interest. Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson are higher level CIA agents who provide essential narration remotely from the CIA headquarters in America in order to fill-in plot gaps when necessary.
Safe House is a relatively effective action-thriller that sprinkles real, urgent political and military issues in America. However, these issues are given a passing thought in the film while car chases and firepower wreak havoc throughout. If the performances from the starring roles were not so powerful and chilling, the film could easily fall flat. Action-wise, the film is a re-hash of every other action film, and only a passing interest with the film will remain.
Safe House itself is a rather saturated film, matching the atmosphere of Cape Town, South Africa. There are few bright colors to really utilize the spectrum that the high definition medium could provide. However, the film does have a sharp picture, enough to portray the saturated color tones and gritty sets with aplomb.
The audio quality of this blu-ray release is stellar, and only receives a 4.5 due to its lack of a 7.1 sound track. Although effective with the 5.1 channel, the film has an excellent soundtrack that accentuates the impending doom and constant threats the main characters experience. The vuvuzela’s made famous during the 2008 World Cup, also held in South Africa, make an appearance during a scene outside the World Cup stadium. The unmistakable sound of the horn is represented by the audio track well and acts as an example of the sound design. It’s a testament to how well the Blu-ray delivers the theatrical sound to your living room.
The Safe House Blu-ray is certainly not without its fair share of supplemental material, perfect for the budding action film director or just the curious. Most of the supplemental material are at accessible lengths (typically under or around ten minutes) and deconstruct pivotal action scenes. The Blu-ray also includes UControl, a feature that allows the viewer to watch a storyboard comparison and making-of-footage in a picture-in-picture format while the main feature plays.
- Making Safe House
- Hand-to-Hand Action
- Shooting the Safe House Attack
- Building the Rooftop Chase
- Behind the Action
- Inside the CIA
- Safe Harbor: Cape Town
The Safe House Blu-ray is a polished product with a variety of options and features that will make a aficionado and collectors impressed and satisfied. The film itself is, although filled with the aforementioned political and military context, is a repetitive action film that fails to provide anything new. The film starts out of the gate with a great sprint, but is unable to keep up with itself, and eventually begins to stumble over its own feet.
Aaron Weiss has recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Cinema Studies from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He continues to write recent movie reviews for CinemaFunk.com and progressive rock and metal reviews for ProgSnobs.com.