Review: Safe House Packs a Punch

They don't make movies like Safe House anymore.  Strongly reminiscent of the finest action films of the 80s and 90s, this movie is about being awesome, driving fast, beating people up, guns and knives and bleeding everywhere. And it is so, so good.

Ryan Reynolds is Matt Weston, a junior CIA "housekeeper" in charge of maintaining a safe house for American use in South Africa. He's seen no action for twelve months until ex-CIA operative and wanted traitor Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is brought in for questioning. Frost has, in his possession, information so valuable that not only the CIA, but several other forces are after him as well.  With higher ups in the CIA (Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga) keeping watch from afar, things should be business as usual. But when the safe house is compromised, possibly due to corruption in the CIA, Weston goes on the run with Frost in tow, and must discern the truth and protect himself, and others, while in the hands of this master manipulator.

The action is unrelenting, bone-crushing and thrilling. There's hardly time to breath in between action sequences, much less ever get bored with the steady stream of hand-to-hand combat, explosive gunfire and seemingly endless running from danger. The film does veer towards rather vivid violence, but the shaky camera work never lingers long enough to turn stomachs. Moreover it's just fun to watch, as the expected conventions of the genre are turned ever so slightly on end, occurring exactly on time, again and again.

Skeptical as I was, Reynolds is remarkably convincing as a young CIA operative eager to work his way up the ranks. While he's really best known for his, er, comedic roles, and a bad turn as the Green Lantern, Reynolds is strong and capable and a fantastic foil to Denzel Washington's cool and collected bad guy.  Washington turns in a stellar performance, unflappably determined to accomplish his own end game above all else.

This story isn't about the choice between good and bad, it's about the difficulty of the choice between two terrible options, and then an endless string of even worse options. The script, penned by David Guggenheim, is concise and believable, filled with tense situations and entirely free of corny dialogue or pointless melodrama, even oddly devoid of excessive sexuality or what my parents might call "foul language." While there are a few unanswered questions, the lack of glaring plot holes is a refreshing turn of events.

As far as action films go, this one was enjoyable, engaging and, dare I say, awesome. Every component of the film works tightly together to deliver an intense experience. From a strong script to some wonderfully solid performances to mind blinding action sequences sure to please the most hardened of action fans, Safe House is a must see.

Grade: A-