Film review | Safe House – On the run and in a blur: rogue spy Denzel & and rookie Ryan

Safe House - Denzel Washington as rogue agent Tobin Frost

Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington go head to head as callow rookie and cynical old pro in Safe House, a frenetic action thriller whose chases, gunplay and hand-to-hand combat flash by in such a furious blur that the viewer barely has time to register the plot’s shortcomings.

Reynolds is a junior CIA agent, Matt Weston, consigned to the numbingly dull assignment of overseeing an agency safe house in Cape Town but desperate to prove his worth in the field. And Washington is super-cool rogue spy Tobin Frost, who’s been trafficking in stolen intelligence for the best part of a decade but who unexpectedly turns himself in to the local US consulate after a squad of foreign mercenaries make life on the street too hot for him. Both men are thrown together when the safe house comes under attack shortly after Frost gets taken there under guard. In the aftermath of the ensuing shootout, Matt goes on the run with Frost as his prisoner, but does he have the guile and the ruthlessness to stay on top?

The set-up suggests there will be a fiendish battle of wits between Reynolds’ greenhorn and Washington’s wily traitor, but instead the film barrels along from one blistering skirmish to the next at such a pace that the mind games take a back seat. With Oliver Wood, cinematographer of three of the Bourne films, behind the lens, and Bourne Supremacy editor Richard Pearson doing the cutting, these sequences – including a frantic chase over a Cape township’s flimsy rooftops – have the visceral excitement we now expect from the spy genre, but with actors of the calibre of Washington and Reynolds in the frame, not to mention co-stars Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga and Sam Shepard as a trio of backroom spooks who may or may not be up to no good, it’s disappointing there isn’t more complexity and depth behind the action.

On general release from Friday 24th February.

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