Safe House

Call it the Scandinavian invasion: With “Safe House,” Swedish director Daniel Espinosa (“Snabba Cash”) joins a growing club of filmmakers from his region who are working in Hollywood now, including Refn, who directed mastefully “Drive” and Tomas Alfredson, who chose the right strategy for the remake of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”


Except that judging by what’s on screen, Espinoza is not as talented a craftsman (not to mention artist) as they are, for he has made a routine, overly familiar action thriller, full of car explosions and other violent but nonsensical set-pieces. 

It’s also hard to understand, based on the plot, characterization, and dialogue, why David Guggenheim’s spec script became an instant hot property when it landed on the “Black List” of the best unproduced scripts in circulation.

What is clear, though, is that Denzel Washington is a versatile actor, who can play one season on Broadway serious roles (most recently “Fences”) for the dramatic challenges they offer, and then smoothly navigates toward more conventional Hollywood flicks for the lucrative paychecks.

Over the past decade or so, Washington has established a special rapport with Tony Scott, a director who makes fast-moving, dazzlingly stylish actioners that contain big set-pieces but are not excatly good from a narrative or dramatic standpoint.  The duo has collaborated on at least half a dozen picture, most of which passably entertaining, resulting in mid-range box office.  In “Safe House,” Espionoza strains to achieve a Tont Scott-like glitzy actioner, but, alas, he lacks the skills for that.

Like numerous actioners, “Safe House” is sort of a male buddy picture, this time around pairing Washington, older and savvier actor, with Ryan Reynolds, younger, less experienced and less compelling, who has a long way to go to become a bona ide movie star.  When the duo shares the screen, you can’t help but look at Washington—for many different reasons.

In “Safe House,” Washington plays a dangerous traitor named Tobin Frost, who shocks the CIA and the whole intelligence community when he suddenly surfaces (of all places) in South Africa.  When the safe house to which he’s remanded is attacked by some mercenaries, a rookie (Reynolds) is forced to help him escape. 

Almost reluctantly the two men bond.  The masterful manipulator toys with his protégé, to the point where the young operative finds in what is one of the text’s weakest elements, his morality tested and idealism shaken. 

Rest of the narrative depicts how the couple must stay alive in order to uncover who are their real enemies, or more specifically, who would do anything to see them dead.

In the first reel, the scribe reveals some info about his personalities. Tobin Frost is a spy who has eluded capture for almost a decade.  One of the most brilliant  ops men trained by the CIA, the officer has reportedly betrayed assets and sold military codes to enemies of the state.  We learn (in disbelief, though) that Frost had helped splinter cells, traded top secrets for money—in short, he has caused unimaginable and unacceptable damage to his country.

In contrast, Matt Weston is a frustrated officer, reduced to being inactive in a backwater post in Cape Town.  You know from many other movies the type, Weston is a “housekeeper”—a company man holding a dull desk job–aspiring to be a full-fledged case officer. Bidding his time, he can’t wait for the opportunity to prove himself. 

The women in the secondary cast are appealing but have nothing interesting to do or to say; they are in the film to attract female viewers.  Vera Farmiga plays CIA Branch Chief Catherine Linklater, and Nora Arnezeder is cast as Matt’s girlfriend, medical resident Ana Moreau.