"Safe House" is a CIA-agent-gone-rogue thriller. No further information is needed to understand the plot line, and if this picture didn't have Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds and a fine cast of actors—along with that inexplicable something else—there would be no point in discussing the film.
But the beauty of movies is that even when we know what to expect in a genre picture like "Safe House," Reynolds and Denzel (I like to think of Denzel on a first-name basis) grab our attention, and the script by David Guggenheim actually has something to say.
Despite endless T-bone collisions at 100 miles per hour (where Denzel and Reynolds walk out of cars, trucks and SUVs with barely a scratch), the pulsating score that sweeps the action forward like stormy waves moving sea junk to shore and fast-action editing—despite all of that—this movie still has a kind of truth. It's a morality play. In a world of bad versus mo' bad, the challenge is, who will survive? Bad or mo' bad?
And that, my friends, is where money and the greed index determine the outcome.
Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a CIA agent still wet behind the ears, babysits a CIA safe house in South Africa. Unlike Paris, Rome or Berlin, it's not a great assignment. When he's not throwing a tennis ball at the wall, Weston maintains a banal cover story, which he has sold, hook, line and sinker to Ana Moreau, his beautiful French girlfriend (Nora Arnezeder). Because smart is sexy, Moreau is a medical resident at a hospital.
Weston's life takes a 180-degree spin when a "guest" arrives at the safe house: none other than the notorious Tobin Frost (Denzel), a CIA agent who went off grid about 10 years ago and is selling big-time secrets.
We know about Frost because the head honchos at Langley talk about him in grim, hushed tones. Frost's fieldwork is legendary, and he can manipulate human assets better than anyone. He plays mind games, and he's the best. It's no surprise, then, that when the CIA extraction team sent to interrogate Frost on foreign soil is besieged by enemy combatants trying to take Frost hostage, Frost gets into Weston's head.
"Remember rule No. 1: You are responsible for your house guest. I'm your house guest," Frost says. "Time's a-wasting. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock ..."
In the blaze of bullets, explosions, car chases and blood baths, Frost teaches Weston to survive and to challenge what is being said.
"If they tell you that you've done a good job, but they will take it from here, it's over son," Frost says.
The CIA corrupted Frost, but will it corrupt Weston?
It's hard to resist Frost. Denzel gives a peak performance here. He's funny, poignant, irrational, rational, brutal and jaded. But Denzel isn't alone. Reynolds holds his own, and the cast filled out with Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard and Ruben Blades gives the movie zing.
"Safe House," directed by Sweden- born Daniel Espinosa, has brute vitality reminiscent of "The French Connection" (1971). For those who have not seen the gold standard of thrillers, "The French Connection" unleashed a torrent of slam-bam, fast-and-furious, charged-up suspense. Although the innovativeness of the quintessential thriller has been watered down through 40 years of copycats, "Safe House" blows an audience sky high from an adrenal rush, just like the classic.
Espinosa has crafted the film carefully, so that the car chases, slashings, beatings, water boarding, sniping, murders, fist fights and more car chases keep you on the edge of your seat.
I really liked it. I really, really did.