The story attempts to be much deeper than it actually is, and the bad guy can be guessed almost as soon as this person shows up on screen. Basically, Safe House is the story of wanted ex-CIA agent Tobin Frost (Washington) who shows up at the US Embassy in Cape Town, Africa, and is immediately transported by a CIA team to the nearest safe house where Matt Weston (Reynolds) is assigned as housekeeper. Tobin's safe there only long enough to be waterboarded (a very disturbing scene) before the killers who were hot on his tail - and who prompted his escape into the US Embassy in the first place - tear the safe house apart, killing everyone in sight.
However, because Safe House is more than a 15 minute film, Tobin and Matt escape and are forced into going on the run until such a time when the CIA can bring them in to a new safe location. And as the two spend time together, Matt begins to play a game of connect the dots with the outcome pointing to the possibility of bad guys working within the CIA (something the audience knows from the get-go).
There are elements of each of the Bourne films, a franchise Safe House can't help but be compared to, in this CIA-agent-goes-rogue tale. Director Daniel Espinosa went as far as to employ Bourne Identity/Bourne Supremacy/Bourne Ultimatum cinematographer Oliver Wood to handle the shaky cam work in Safe House, an act which seems to indicate Espinosa's just asking for his action thriller to be compared to the blockbuster franchise. And as much as I dislike shaky cam for shaky cam's sake, the Bourne style fits well within the Safe House story. Wood is one of the few cinematographers who's able to integrate the shaky cam style into a film, rather than jar the audience out of it with its use.
Also working in Safe House's favor are a few spectacular action scenes, most notably one in which Ryan Reynolds as the driver and Denzel Washington as his unwilling passenger get into mad fisticuffs while the car's careening down crowded roads at high speeds. Director Espinosa did an extraordinary job of staging this particular action-packed sequence which quite literally has the audience holding its collective breath and holding onto the armrests for the duration of the scene. It does the job of transporting us into the car alongside these two combatants, and is easily the best 'car' action sequence of 2012 (of course, we're barely into the year as Safe House opens in theaters).
The Bottom Line:
It's easy to buy Washington as a CIA agent who's wanted by every government organization after turning traitor and selling national secrets. Washington's good at this sort of character (he could probably do it in his sleep at this point), and as the eager-to-get-ahead agent who wants some real action rather than the job babysitting a house, Reynolds proves to be a good foil for Washington's sly rogue agent character. Physically, the two are well-matched in action scenes, with Washington's veteran character getting the upper hand on the younger, more physically fit agent due to his years spent in the field with the CIA and on the run. Espinosa surrounded the two with a talented cast of supporting players that includes Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, and Liam Cunningham, and he keeps the action coming with nary a break for the best part of the 2 hour runtime.
While Safe House does suffer from predictability, there are enough real thrills and better-than-average stunts to make it worthwhile for action fans to check out. It's not the smartest story, but the acting and the action make Safe House a safe bet for genre fans to get their money's worth at the theater.
Safe House was directed by Daniel Espinosa and is rated R for strong violence throughout and some language.
Theatrical Release: February 10, 2012