Rashid Irani's review: Safe House

Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds attend the premiere of Safe House in New York. AP

Marked for death

Safe House
Direction: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds
Rating: ***

Echoing such hard-hitting thrillers as Training Day and the Bourne trilogy, Safe House may evoke that feeling of seen-that-know-that. Yet despite the familiarity of its material, the espionage yarn still delivers high-octane chases, brutal punch-ups, besides the commanding screen presence of Denzel Washington.

The two-time Oscar-winner portrays an ex-CIA agent-turned-freelance spy. The rogue spook is in possession of a computer chip coveted by a horde of assassins. He is pursued into the US embassy in South Africa from where he is spirited away to the titular facility.

After the secure location is raided, the rookie 'housekeeper' (Reynolds) goes on the run with the internee in tow.

As it happens ever so often in the movies, there's something rotten at the highest level in the government's intelligence organisation.

Veering from cloying to crude, the narrative sometimes strains the viewer's credibility. The first half of the film is fast and furious. However, the rest of the picture is a let-down, subjecting us to coincidences and violence galore.

In addition, director Espinosa (Easy Money) resorts to stylistic tics such as 'arty' imagery, jittery hand-held camerawork and blurry editing.

On the other hand, the Cape Town locations, including a packed football stadium and the shanty dwellings, are strikingly dramatic.

Denzel Washington brings some shred of decency to his unsympathetic character. As the young upstart, Ryan Reynolds is impressively energetic. His romance with French newcomer Nora Arnezeder is lacklustre, though. Veteran character actors Sam Shepard, Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga are wasted in their roles of CIA higher-ups.

Check into Safe House if you're in the mood for a dark-edged caper.


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