‘Safe House,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


I found it instructive that, when I told my soon-to-be-25-year-old son that I’d seen “Safe House” and that it reminded me of “Three Days of the Condor,” he replied, “That reference would be relevant if I knew what ‘Three Days of the Condor’ was.”

(He also said, “…and if I knew what ‘Safe House’ was,” but that proves the wrong point. When I referred to it as the Ryan Reynolds-Denzel Washington film, he said, “Oh, that one.”)

“Safe House” actually has Tony Scott written all over it. It’s even got Washington, who has been the go-to actor for Mr. Style-over-Substance for the past decade or or more.

But this is faux Tony Scott, just as most real Tony Scott is faux Ridley. Like a real Tony Scott film, this movie has less on its mind than it thinks and more time to say it in. The result is a mildly tense thriller in the same vein as, um, “Three Days of the Condor” (a well-regarded 1975 thriller by Sydney Pollack about one man’s discovery that the CIA just might be a teensy bit out of control).

Instead of Robert Redford, however, director Daniel Espinosa has Ryan Reynolds, playing a low-level “housekeeper” for the CIA. Specifically, Reynolds’ Matt Weston has spent the past year running the cover operation for and maintenance of a CIA safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Another few months, his boss tells him, and he might be ready for a posting as a field operative.

Then, with little warning, an extraction team shows up on his doorstep with a “guest.” But not just any guest: This is Tobin Frost (Washington), a CIA rogue who disappeared nine years ago and who has been selling intelligence from and to anyone who has the money and the access ever since. He’s considered a great catch – even if he did walk into the American Embassy in Cape Town and give himself up. Now he’s been deposited at the safe house, where the team clears its throat by waterboarding him (even though he’s offered to tell them whatever they want to know).

Just as they’re sharpening the knives for Phase 2, however, they’re interrupted when the safe house is compromised: In other words, a bunch of thugs with automatic weapons breaks in as though the building was a feature on tourist maps. They kill everyone except Matt, who escapes with Frost in the trunk of a stolen car.

Now what? Even as CIA bigshots Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson sit in the U.S. debating whether Matt is in cahoots with Frost – and make plans to find them both – Weston and Frost are chasing around South Africa, trying to stay one step ahead of the assassination squad. And, oh yeah – Frost is telling Weston that the bad guys who are after them are on a mission from a covert element in the CIA, who believe Frost has something embarrassing to reveal.

So who’s fooling who?

This review continues on my website.

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