For most of the running time Safe House is a pretty exciting action movie. Things blow up, Denzel is a wicked cool bad guy, but when the movie slows down to try and provide some back story it loses some of its explosive power.
Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a rookie CIA agent stationed at an underused safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. When agents bring in Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), an ex-agent wanted for espionage, Weston is thrust into a wild escape plan, high level intrigue and must learn who to trust.
The underlying sense of tension in “Safe House” originates with Washington. If this was a Tom Cruise or Will Smith vehicle you know that even though they might do dastardly things occasionally, they only ever play heroes. Washington is different. He’s not afraid to explore the dark side of his characters and it is not a guarantee that he will be alive by the time the end credits roll. That’s not a spoiler, it’s a comment on an actor who brings some much welcome moral ambiguity to the role. Want to find out if he lives or dies? Buy a ticket. The movie is mostly worth the ride.
It slows down when it show amp up in its last quarter. The knee-deep intrigue slows down the movie’s momentum, clichés pile up and Denzel’s uncanny ability to walk between the hundreds of bullets fired his way begins to wear thin. But up until it starts trying to tie up loose ends it has some good action and a wall of tension so high it sometimes feels like you’ll never be able to see over it.
The loser here is Ryan Reynolds who is blown off screen by Washington’s effortless cool and never rises above the clichés that make up his new-guy-thrown-into-a- fracas-of-unparalleled-danger-and-intrigue. Too bad the “Green Lantern” didn’t have action half as good as “Safe House.” If it did there might have been a sequel and we’d all be talking about Reynolds in his green tights instead of how here he is mainly a pile of clichés who barely registers when placed next to the more complex Washington character.