I’ve always found it difficult to review Denzel Washington movies in an unbiased way. In my teenage years I saw Malcolm X several times in the theater and several more times at home. Although it would seem that I would be predisposed to loving the movie considering I was a fan of the book, Denzel, and Spike Lee, I was still extremely apprehensive. As a young cinephile, I was too caught up with the fact that Denzel Washington looked nothing like the Malcolm X I had grown to know. I always envisioned Malcolm as being tall, red-headed, and light-skinned. Denzel was none of these. He was relatively short, with dark skin and darker hair. How could he be Malcolm X?
Well, he didn’t have to be. This was the film responsible for teaching me that being true to character and presence is not the same as being a cinematic doppelganger. Denzel had managed to bring anger, persistence, danger, and reluctant compassion into one character. He did this with such charisma and strength that it was the high water mark to which I have compared every Denzel movie since, as unfair as that may seem. He has made a handful of really good films since then that I truly love; Devil in a Blue Dress being one of my absolute favorites.
Then you have Ryan Reynolds. The best I can say about Ryan is that he made a great douchebag in Adventureland and Green Lantern was probably not all his fault.
So what does all this have to do with Safe House?
For the two hours I sat watching Denzel’s latest, I was absolutely engrossed in what he had brought to the character of Tobin Frost – restrained anger, persistence, danger, and reluctant compassion. That’s not to say this was a Malcolm X redux, not by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, this is not really Tobin’s story.
Safe House is a highly entertaining, yet surprisingly forgettable, film that centers around the character of Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a frustrated CIA agent stuck doing what amounts to espionage by way of house sitting. It is important, but uninteresting work maintaining a safe house that is never used. He hopes that one day he might prove himself and get a choice assignment in a more desirable part of the world, an assignment in a location he might find more suitable for the life with his more-than-choice girlfriend, Ana (Nora Arnezeder). Enter Tobin Frost.
When Tobin Frost is brought to Matt’s safe house to be questioned by CIA interrogators, all hell breaks loose. Think Rio Bravo by way of modern-day Ridley Scott and you get an idea of what this might feel like. Throw in some cat-and-mouse for the remainder of the film and you have Safe House.
In the context that I have placed this description it might seem as though this is a bad thing. It’s not. Just an unmemorable one. I truly loved watching Denzel pass on wisdom ranging from relationship advice all the way to the proper weight of a washrag to be used in water boarding…but again, this is not Tobin’s movie. This is Matt’s movie, and we never care about Matt. We just want more Tobin. The action is predictable fun with the exception of a well thought-out chase that has a nice “who’s fighting who” vibe for a few minutes, but the rest of the film is uninspired and predictable.
Should this keep you from seeing the film? Not necessarily. If you like the trailer and accept the fact that you will not be seeing anything as memorable as the moments in said trailer, you’ll enjoy yourself for two hours. Then you’ll forget about it. The only real post-film discussion to be had might be, “Where the fuck was HOVA?”
I give this movie 3.5 of 5 nerdskulls.
Have a good weekend.