You can always tell who has top billing by who’s in focus.

Theatrical Release Date: 02/10/2012
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Rubén Blades, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick
Rated: R for strong violence throughout and some language.
Runtime: 1 hour, 55 minutes


Even Denzel’s ghost has screen presence.

A spy goes off the reservation, hunted by the agency for which he once worked. There’s corruption within the CIA, stemming from the very top and a trusted mentor may be at the center of it. Action scenes are shot with a shaky camera, cut together in quick bursts to make everything that much more frenetic and almost overburdened with grain to amp up the grittiness.

No, I’m not talking about “The Bourne Supremacy”, I’m talking about “Safe House”. Putting aside the notion that director Daniel Espinosa and writer David Guggenheim concocted this after a late night Bourne DVD marathon, the element that doesn’t seem like a direct lift from the other franchise is pairing Denzel Washington as the rogue spy with Ryan Reynolds’ naïve agency greenhorn. That element is a bit more “Training Day” meets any cliché story about a man framed for a crime he didn’t commit having to convince the cop chasing him of the truth.

There’s also the often used idea of a beautiful civilian girlfriend who has no idea her man leads a double life. Will our hero prove his love by sending her away? Will they find a way to reconnect once it’s all over? The anticipation is almost unbearable!!! (Sorry, sarcasm overload.) Okay, I’m going to stop finding rehashed plot elements; I could be doing this all day.

About the only element of the film that’s original is the importance of CIA safe houses in order to interrogate and hold prisoners prior to extradition. Or, at least, I can’t readily remember this being a significant feature of another film, so way to go guys! (Sarcasm burp, excuse me.)

However, while stopping to think about the development of the script or the film’s direction is a bad idea for anyone just looking to have a good time, the upside to “Safe House” is the cast. Denzel is sort of mixing and matching some of his previous roles but his presence on-screen is always appreciated and it played nicely against the desperation and almost wide-eyed innocence being exuded from Reynolds (think Washington vs Pine in “Unstoppable“). Adding to the mix are Sam Shepard, Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga as the CIA muckety mucks; it’s a shame you see through their veneers so quickly but they’re such good actors it’s still enjoyable to see them go through the paces.

Also, while the action may be framed like a film school student imitating director Paul Greengrass, there’s a decent amount of it. The runtime is just shy of 2 hours, and a few of the slow downs could have used some tightening but the generally frequent splashes of violence will keep action junkies at least moderately satiated. And while The Green Lantern Ryan Reynolds isn’t always 100% convincing as a supposedly trained wannabe field agent, there’s no doubting the ruthlessness Denzel can elicit when the situation calls for it.

In the end, whether or not all that cinematic “Déjà Vu” will get in the way of liking this experience probably rests on your ability to suspend your disbelief and forgo from any film comparisons until after the credits roll (this time, the only connection is me shoehorning in a movie title). So while one could just sit comfortably on the couch and pop in a few DVDs of the films “Safe House” not so subtly echoes, if you’re looking for an action film in theaters right now, this will fit the bill and it gets a 3 out of 5.

3 out of 5