Safe House


If Hollywood films are any indication, the CIA is full of betrayal and treachery. The people we have entrusted our country’s secrets with turn out to be the most permeable vaults imaginable. To make matters worse, we train them to be ruthless killers who can handle torture better than most of us can the pain of stepping on a Lego. Daniel Espinosa’s Safe House ends up being another in the long line of “who’s the bad guy in the CIA” films released since The Bourne Identity.



Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is the “housekeeper” of a CIA safe house in South Africa. When agents bring in the notorious Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), his mundane life as a low-level operative changes completely. Once the house is compromised, Weston has to keep an eye on Frost while also untangling what the CIA wants with Frost, why he was in South Africa, and where his best interests lie.

From the start, Safe House is a shot of adrenaline. The funny thing about adrenaline, though, is that it wears off. Ultimately, Safe House is a movie with a flimsy, clichéd story that is meant to keep you engaged between the ample action sequences, but fails. At no point are Frost’s motives in question. He is never successfully vilified, preventing the film from really building on a distinct conflict. We are provided two options for Weston to trust: Frost and his mentor David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson).


The action in Safe House runs interminably, only pausing for Frost and Weston to catch their breath and address their wounds. These moments are used to push the plot along through wheezing whispers and panicked exclamations, but literally every twist and turn is a rehashed plotline from a dozen different movies. Nothing new is achieved from Safe House. The characters are acting on the same motives; the twists are predictable; the ending is inevitable. Clichés galore should be the tag line.

The one saving grace is the cast. Denzel is Denzel – a phrase I think is becoming all too commonplace when discussing his films, I’m afraid. Ryan Reynolds, though, is starting to grow as an actor. I never saw Buried, but I heard great things about his performance. He has the potential to pump out some halfway decent dramatic performances in between his comedic romps.


Frankly, no one else is given a chance to really build an important role, but Gleeson and Vera Farmiga manipulate their characters’ lack of substance into something resembling substance.

I get the strong feeling that many who see Safe House will be very neutral about it. Few – dare I say none – will place it in a favorites list, and few will put it in the “Reviled Pile.” (I think I just found a new site section!) I’d say avoid it simply because there are more entertaining chase/run/drive/shoot movies in the vault. If you want to stick with Reynolds, go for Smokin’ Aces – plenty gratuitous violence, deceit, and moderate comedy there.

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