If you can't wait until August of this year and The Bourne Legacy for your spy/action fix you'll be thoroughly pleased to know that the kind people of Universal have produced an identikit flick full of renegade agents, double crossing and close quarters fisticuffs to fill the gap. In fact, if you can find a single review, in print or on the net, that doesn't at least once name-check Matt Damon's iconic amnesiac we'll happily provide a free trip to Langley.
Stuck in a lonesome posting guarding a safe house in Cape Town, CIA agent Matt Weston laments his lack of day-to-day action. His lamentations don't last long however when rogue agent and top of the agency's Most Wanted and Most Violent, Tobin Frost, hands himself in. Before you can say 'missed opportunity for a mismatched buddy movie' Matt and Tobin are on the run with the latter slowly infecting the former's views on the fundamental differences between good and evil.
In the same way that any film containing blades and mud has a tendency to look like Gladiator, any film that features scraps and spies seems destined to share a visually similarity to the Jason Bourne films. So when your plot necessitates the exact same keywords as the Ludlum creation it'd be advisable to think of a way to distance yourself from accusations of copycat. What you wouldn't do is hire the the services of Oliver Wood, DoP of Bourne's Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum.
That Wood will be replaced by There Will Be Blood's Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Elswit for The Bourne Legacy may be the most dramatic change the entire series has seen since Liman's introduction. But this isn't a Bourne review, it's a Safe House review and after the violent, punch-up of a comparison Safe House gets to it's bloodied feet, remaining shaken by the equivalence.
Helping the film's fightback is the trump card of Denzel Washington. As the mischievous, masterful manipulator the two time Oscar winner has a whale of a time toying with Ryan Reynolds and his little shocked beaver face. Surprisingly holding his own against Washington, Reynolds bounces back from the twin failures of Green Lantern and The Change-Up with a respectable turn as the wide-eyed innocent asking naively, whether weatherboarding is legal and, even more naively, whether or not the American government may occasionally do things for their own benefit.
The Clarice Starling/Hannibal Lecter like relationship between pupil and master helps carry the film through it's cheap attempts at twists and turns. A series of supporting characters including a wasted trio of Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepherd and Vera Farmiga (essentially repeating her turn from Source Code) may as well be wearing red herring inscribed turncoats for the duration. It's no spoiler to suggest that one of them may have ulterior motives. What's amazing is how little you'll care when they're revealed.
As for the action and choreographed violence, perhaps the number two reason for purchasing a ticket this weekend, again Safe House delivers adequately. This is no 'Man On A Ledge violence without consequence' but rather bullets ripping through muscle, knives cutting through flesh and kicks and punches that really, really hurt. Yet within seconds of this authenticity being established it's just as quickly ignored when it serves the plot in unbelievable car chases and crashes.
This confusion and lack of thought is summed up with Safe House's banal tagline, “No One Is Safe”. If you're paying attention, No One Is A House either.
Bourne Again. And again. And again. Ryan's Training Day may be hampered by a lack of originality but it benefits greatly from a Denzel on top teaching form. A solid action thriller that will ultimately amount to little more than a footnote in the career of all involved.