There are very few actors who have been able to do what Denzel Washington has been able to do over the last two decades. For those of you who don’t know, Denzel Washington really got his first big break in the hit television series St. Elsewhere. His first movie role was in a very forgettable movie called Carbon Copy with George Segal. He got a huge role in the movie Glory in 1989. He then starred in several Spike Lee movies including Mo’ Better Blues and Malcolm X. His performance in Malcolm X was simply phenomenal. Then came a string of hits that was nearly unprecedented. There was The Pelican Brief, Philadelphia (with Tom Hanks), Crimson Tide, Courage Under Fire (one of my personal favorites), The Siege, Remember the Titans and Training Day (won an Oscar). Although he may have been in some bad movies (Heart Condition, The Mighty Quinn, Ricochet) I don’t think he’s given a bad performance.
Safe House is basically your CIA, superspy movie in which the hero has gone bad. You never really find out what caused our hero to turn from good to evil. Anyway, he is selling secrets or at least accused of selling secrets to the highest bidder. Ryan Reynolds plays a young CIA rookie named Matt Weston. He is deeply in love with a beautiful French girl. He is bored to tears and doing nothing at the CIA safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Basically, the plot is somewhat formulaic. Denzel Washington is our aging superspy who has bought some secrets from an old MI6 spy. He ends up captured and placed in the safe house. He gets waterboarded. I’m guessing that the CIA still believes that waterboarding works or it is good for the plot. The safe house is breached. Plenty of shooting and mayhem. The rest of the movie leads us on an odyssey to try to find out who will go to “any means necessary” to kill Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington).
The movie is entertaining and fast-paced. It is filmed in the style much like the Bourne movies (plenty of jump cuts, somewhat grainy). The movie, in a way, is one big chase scene. The bad guys are chasing Frost on foot. The safe house is breached and Frost, along with Weston, are chased through the streets of Cape Town in an automobile they have commandeered. By the way, why doesn’t anyone ever steal a beat-up Honda Civic or a Ford Pinto from the early ’70s? I’m just askin’. (It is one of the best car chase scenes I have seen in recent memory. The best of all-time was in the 7 Ups or Bullitt.)
Now, not to give away everything, our superheroes at one time or another get shot and they look like they’re on the verge of death. Somehow, through the magic of Hollywood, with a little “rest,” they are good to go. A single gunshot wound to the abdomen or shoulder will not slow down the superspy. There are some significant problems with the plot, but the movie is fast-paced enough that you may not notice. Or, if you’re like me, you noticed but you find that you didn’t mind them that much. (BTW, how did Weston find Frost in that small township? Because Frost glanced at a road sign? Really? Why didn’t the CIA shut down his secure computer access since they thought that Weston was now working with Frost?)
Overall, Safe House is a very entertaining movie. Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington deliver excellent performances. Nora Arnezeder is a beautiful French actress who costars in the movie (she really doesn’t do much besides look sexy and French). Sam Sheppard does a fabulous job as the grizzled CIA director. I thought Daniel Espinosa did a great job directing. The editing was fabulous. Overall I give this movie a B+.