March 14, 2012
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Starring Denzel Washington & Ryan Reynolds
Directed by Daniel Espinosa • R, 115 min.
A CIA rookie plunges out of his humdrum day job into an international gauntlet of conspiracy, lies, and life-or-death danger in the action-adventure drama “Safe House.”
Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a greenhorn field agent assigned to get a treasonous, treacherous agency defector to a secure location until interrogators can find out why hit men are swarming out of every nook and cranny in South Africa trying to kill him.
Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is the rouge agent, a cold, calculating CIA superspy who went off the grid several years ago, trailing a wake of counter-espionage destruction and becoming almost legendary among the rank-and-file for his ability to evade capture.
The CIA, headed by Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson back in Washington, D.C., considers Frost “hostile,” and for good reason: He’s packing some highly classified (and volatile) information, he’s been known to mix and mingle with the undercover crowd all over the world, and he’s well-schooled in just about every dirty trick in the little black cloak-and-dagger playbook.
Before you can say “Nobody waterboards Denzel!,” the rookie and the rouge end up on the run together, dodging bullets and other pointy projectiles, hot-wiring getaway cars, fleeing across a shantytown rooftop, and causing commotion inside a noisy soccer stadium buzzing with the disorienting hum of thousands of vuvuzelas.
The action runs hot and heavy, and the psychological screws keep tightening even when the characters pause for a breather. Mistrust grows. Weston’s eyes lose some of their deer-in-the-headlights shock and take on a killer’s glint. Frost starts to get inside the younger agent’s head, especially after revealing the botched mission that caused his defection. “Everybody betrays everybody,” he says.
Who’s chasing Frost? What secrets is he keeping---secrets that are, clearly, worth his life? Is he Weston’s enemy, or his ally?
Frost has all the answers, but he doesn’t give them up easily. “I like a game,” he says coyly, with a wry smile.
If you like an explosive, action-packed game of high-stakes cat-and-mouse that keeps you guessing until the very end, you’ll love skipping along to the slam-bang surprises of “Safe House”---and wondering just what’s going to happen with the next move on a big, sprawling playing field where no place, apparently, is safe.
--Neil Pond, American Profile