Denzel on Autopilot
The screenwriter knows more than the characters. Thatís his job. But when logic is bypassed in favour of shortcuts, seams start to appear and the film loses something. Written by David Guggenheim and executive produced by Denzel Washington, Safe House does exactly that. Crossing the line of believability into mediocrity seems the least of the filmís problems, especially as a dronish underscore and wobbly camerawork add to the confusion.
Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) hasnít reached the position of case officer in the Central Intelligence Agency. However, that could all change when a dream assignment lands on his desk. It involves guarding rogue former operative Tobin Frost (Washington). When the safe house comes under attack, Matt finds himself up against Tobin in a vicious game of cat and mouse. He must watch him but never allow the wily veteran to gain the upper hand. The situation becomes more complicated when Tobin escapes. Now left with few options, Matt decides to find his prisoner and bring him in.
Denzel radiates that soft, mischievous gleam in the eye -- but we have seen it all before. You could backtrack all the way to the 1980s and you will see plenty of examples of this technique. However, itís not so much technique as it is an automatic facial response, designed to seem sinister. This actor would do just as well to use a little less pantomime and more outward aggression. Ryan Reynolds seems gormless by comparison. His emotional state feels difficult to read at the best of times. I find heís put to better use as a comic in projects like Green Lantern (2011), as opposed to matching Jason Statham in the action department.
Robert Patrick appears in a blink-and-you-will-miss-him supporting role. Another casualty manifests itself in Vera Farmiga, who takes too much time making a point only to disappear for long stretches.
Editor Richard Pearson has chosen some lame-duck assignments over the last several years. Now with Safe House, he shows no qualms about adopting flashy editing techniques, including fast cuts. I hope his future choices deviate from this familiar trend.
Overexposed windows are a major flaw in Safe House. Balancing the light between interior and exterior involves either stopping down the camera lens or providing extra illumination where necessary. Itís really hard to believe that, with such a wretched little budget, the filmmakers took the lazy -- and easy -- way out. Also, when the camera shakes are few and far between, one can let it slide. In this film, however, no frame feels sacred.
Overall, director Daniel Espinosa goes for broke and ends up with a flop on his hands.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated ďRĒ for strong violence throughout and some language.)