Denzel Washington (Unstoppable) has built an immensely successful career that is both prolific and praiseworthy. His body of work includes biopics, period pieces, action movies, and dramas alike. He’s an award winning A-list actor that has managed to retain some degree of realism and accessibility, despite the well-deserved fame. However, Washington is not immune from being pigeonholed like any other actor who routinely chooses similar roles. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because he does it well. I’m just saying, whether it’s The Taking of Pelham 123, Déjà Vu, Man on Fire, or the aforementioned Unstoppable – we’ve seen it before: Washington saves the day. Safe House features Washington in a departure from his customary heroic roles, though he winds up an unlikely protagonist by the time the credits roll.
Washington stars as Tobin Frost, a rogue CIA agent who has been off the grid for years. He resurfaces seeking amnesty at a U.S. consulate after a deal goes wrong and his criminal counterparts begin deadly pursuit. Next he is transported to a government safe house manned by novice agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds, The Change-Up). Frost was once an elite operative, trained in psychological manipulation and interrogation. Now he is public enemy no. 1, a criminal so elusive that it seems the only way he could be caught is if he surrendered. Frost is in possession of a data chip containing valuable classified info, and there are several factions who will stop at nothing to get it; but now he is in the custody of the CIA equivalent of the mailroom guy. When the safe house is ambushed, Weston is faced with some tough choices. He must secure the high level asset without getting himself killed. Meanwhile Frost is yammering the whole time, planting little seeds of doubt in Weston’s head about the Agency, causing him to question the circumstances surrounding their fortuitous coup of the nation’s top traitor.
Safe House featured Washington at his charismatic best. There was one early scene where he practically radiated off the screen, eyes twinkling, head cocked to the side. “Don’t I look good?” he asks another character. “Yes,” says the woman sitting next to me in the theater. I had to chuckle. He’s still got “it,” but I’ll admit I found some of the physical scenes a little unrealistic, especially one where he runs from rooftop to rooftop in hard bottom shoes. Safe House is rightfully marketed as a Denzel Washington flick, as the rest of the cast dwindled by comparison. Reynolds did a capable job as the wet-behind-the ears newbie, but it’s hard to hold your own next to Washington. He wasn’t bad, but he just seemed a step behind Denzel, both in terms of character and performance. Vera Farmiga (Source Code) is always pretty good, but her role was a basic one.
Safe House was an enjoyable movie for me, mainly because of Denzel Washington. He carried the movie, and he’s the main attraction. I thought he was worth the price of admission, though the movie itself wasn’t as smart as some of his others. It was a little formulaic and not very suspenseful. It’s made clear from the outset that Frost is being set up and who’s responsible. The movie’s so-called twist hardly qualifies as a surprise, and the plot wasn’t terribly intricate. Just sit back and bask in the Denzeliness. Grade: B+