Susan Granger's review of 'Safe House'
Published 11:30 am, Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Like Dr. Richard Kimble in "The Fugitive," Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is on the run. Frost is a rogue C.I.A. agent-turned-traitor who suddenly appears at the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town, South Africa. When he's dispatched to a company safe house for interrogation, it's under the aegis of ambitious C.I.A. rookie Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds). But others back at Langley don't want Frost to reveal why he's turned himself in after all these years, so they start waterboarding him, as wide-eyed Weston watches with incredulity. That's interrupted when a gang of mercenaries invade the premises. Eager to prove himself, Weston stashes Frost in the trunk of a car and careens around the city, stopping off for a cat-and-mouse chase in a crowded soccer stadium and street demonstration, after which Frost - who has injected under his skin a valuable microchip that reveals compromised agents from all over the world - takes off to get forged papers from his longtime friend Carlos (Ruben Blades), who refers to him as "the black Dorian Gray." During this chaos, Weston must figure out whom to trust -- this enigmatic, highly manipulative intelligence officer who has, admittedly, sold military codes to enemies of the state or cynical fellow operatives (Brendan Gleason, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard) who threaten to betray him.
Written by Davis Guggenheim, directed by Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa and photographed by "Bourne" cinematographer Oliver Wood, it's an overly complicated spy thriller in which the predictably loud, explosive shoot-outs and relentless, repetitive action sequences overwhelm the plot and characters, reducing them to insignificance. That's a shame when you've got heavyweight talent like Denzel Washington, disguised under glasses, unkempt hair and a scraggly beard. And there's an distracting subplot detailing Weston's romantic relationship with Ana Moreau (Nora Arnezeder), a French doctor who, when she learns what he does for a living, hops a train to Johannesburg, then flies to take a job in Paris.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Safe House" is a smashing, crashing, nonsensical 4, revealing C.I.A. corruption at its very core.