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Safe House


Stars: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Ruben Blades, Nora Armezeder, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham

Director: Daniel Espinosa

To his credit, director Espinosa doesn’t spend time showing picture-postcard views of Cape Town, despite its eminently photogenic settings.

Instead he concentrates on muscular story-telling and a generous helping of action, violence and assorted mayhem to deliver a not particularly original thriller that nevertheless succeeds in being viscerally rather than intellectually entertaining.

Where it works particularly well is in the pairing of the leads. Washington, at first looking a tad over-aged and worn down, but effectively transforming himself into a luminous star after a shave and a haircut, gives David Guggenheim’s efficient if somewhat by-numbers screenplay plenty of effective star-driven punch, as a corrupt rogue CIA agent on the run from ruthless killers who surrenders to rookie Reynolds who looks after the CIS safe house in Cape Town.

The arrival of more murderous baddies forces Reynolds and Washington to make a break for it and head for another safe house deep in South Africa. And the result?

An eminently exciting chase thriller packed with thrilling set pieces and sufficient suspense to make Safe House worth seeing. Given the plot is hardly ground-breaking (it would competently serve most celluloid action heroes from Bond to Bourne and beyond), Espinosa rightly relies on Washington’s undoubted star charisma in a flawed hero role with useful echoes of his Oscar winning portrayal in Training Day. Reynolds, too, scores both as a strong foil and an aspirant hero on his own terms.

The CIA is competently represented by Farmiga, Shepard (who unfortunately now looks his age and then some) and Gleeson, but the focus is firmly on Washington and Reynolds who give the sometimes violent but rarely boring show its solid dramatic spine with their enjoyable jousting.

Alan Frank

USA/South Africa 2012. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour by deluxe.
115 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 19 Feb 2012