I remember the first time I saw Denzel Washington in a film. It was Glory and I was probably 10-years-old. My dad is a huge Civil War buff which is why he allowed me to watch such a violent movie at that age. I just didn't want you thinking he was a bad father. Washington was so impressive in that film and I wasn't the only one who thought so. He won his first Oscar that year for Best Supporting Actor, beating out his co-star, Morgan Freeman. Ever since then, he's had his ups and his downs; all the while playing the same character he did in Glory and it's he's lucky he's so much fun to watch because 21 years of the same character can get pretty boring.
Safe House features Denzel as a smart, smooth former CIA agent who's gone rogue and now works for no government and topples whatever and whoever he feels like for money. Ryan Reynolds is a low-level CIA agent who's job it is to babysit an empty safe house in South Africa, which is pretty boring. That is until Washington shows up and all hell breaks loose. From that point on, this film turns into as predictable a plot as you can imagine.
The director is a guy named Daniel Espinosa who appears to have had the pleasure of this being his first English film. I give Espinosa credit for doing what he did with such a horrendously dull and cliche script. He brings a real grittiness to the film and captures the chaos and dangers of South Africa pretty damn well. His choice of color and light is interesting and makes me think that he's so much better than a drooling action film like this. That being said, he does action really well. There are several car and foot chase scenes that get the blood pumping as much as 30 minutes of cardio would. I get the impression that he's a realist and didn't use any CGI on any of the action sequences either.
Washington and Reynolds rarely turn in bad performances and they don't here either. I'm not sure if Reynolds playing the fledgling agent that's timid, bumbiling and passive at first but then gets transformed into a sly, ruthless hunter is that believable but because he's fun to watch, I can suspend disbelief. They also get some help from Brendan Gleeson (28 Days Later, the Harry Potter series), Vera Farmiga (Source Code, Up in the Air) and Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff, The Notebook). All three of them are very good actors and all three are completely under utilized in Safe House playing roles that should be given out to "hey I think I recognize that guy from that thing" people.
I think the saddest part for me is watching Washington produce yet another meerly adequate performance. The last time he was really impressive in a really impressive film was Training Day and that was a decade ago AND he still played the same type of character. I want to believe I should expect more from Washington but if I look at back at his resume, perhaps I shouldn't. I guess there's one type of character he's good at playing and that's the smart but dangerous, kinda crazy, smooth and funny, mysterious outlaw and/or family man...otherwise known as Denzel Washington. Like I said, good thing he's fun to watch. Safe House (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C+