Safe House (Universal Pictures, R)


film safe-house_smThe style of this film is 100% lifted from the later Bourne movies.



film safe-house_lg

I’ll say this for Safe House: When I saw the trailer, I joked to a friend that they had made yet another remake of Assault on Precinct 13, which itself was heavily inspired by Rio Bravo. This is not, in fact, another remake of Assault on Precinct 13; it is actually a remake of The Bourne Supremacy, combined with yet another remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Denzel Washington plays the delightfully named Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA agent who has been selling international secrets to anyone and everyone in his nine years since leaving the agency. One day he is being chased and shot at, and walks into a U.S. embassy and surrenders, whereupon he is transferred to a safe house manned by Ryan Reynolds. Literally minutes after arriving, the safe house is attacked and the team that brought in Frost is killed, leaving only Reynolds, who escapes with Frost and has to transfer him to the next secure location. Along the way, Frost tries to escape and the two fight while also developing a certain amount of respect for each other and eventually having to work together. (That’s the 3:10 to Yuma part.)

Safe House is directed by Daniel Espinosa. I don’t know who he is, but he obviously wishes he were Paul Greengrass: The style of this film is 100% lifted from the later Bourne movies. But it goes beyond that; I was absolutely stunned by the scenes set inside the CIA headquarters. They are like Gus Van Sant Psycho-level imitations of The Bourne Supremacy, with Vera Farmiga playing the Joan Allen role, Sam Shepard filling in for Chris Cooper, and Brendan Gleeson doing an incredibly detailed recreation of the role played by Brian Cox. These actors don’t just play the same roles; they actually seem to have been cast because they look like their Bourne counterparts. I was 14 when The Bourne Supremacy came out, and it blew me away. Films didn’t look or feel like that at the time. Now, I’ve seen it more times than I can count, and it still packs a visceral punch. In the years since its release it has been endlessly imitated, with Safe House being the most direct retread of The Bourne Supremacy since, well, The Bourne Ultimatum.

Obviously, Safe House is a very derivative, mediocre thriller, yet one that is helped out by the two leads. Ryan Reynolds is a guy a lot of people seem to hate for no reason. I’ve always kind of liked him, and I got behind his character here. He’s not playing his usual smart-ass, but rather someone who is in over his head and desperately wants to prove himself. Denzel Washington is incapable of giving a bad performance. Tobin Frost (I dare you to say his name without doing a cheesy movie trailer voice) is one of his less-compelling roles, but it’s still fun to see him play a badass. The problem is that they are afraid to make him too villainous. He and Reynolds kind of make up the two halves of the Jason Bourne character, and it would have been better if he had been more flawed.

It’s interesting how movies change in our minds. I saw the remake of 3:10 to Yuma when it came out in 2007 and thought it was good, but not great. While watching Safe House, I was looking back at how much more I was invested in the characters of 3:10 to Yuma and it looked like a masterpiece. As the credits rolled on this film, I looked back on a movie which failed to excite or intrigue me and I thought to myself, “Well, it was way better than Man on a Ledge.” I refuse to fall into this trap. Safe House is a boring movie, and just because it does a few things right doesn’t mean that there is any reason for anyone to watch it. | Sean Lass

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