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WGUC Reviews

Safe House

Safe House
Universal Pictures
Rated R
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas

Sometimes this movie review thing can end up being more complicated than just (a) pick a movie and (b) write a review. My initial plan for this week’s piece was to re-visit Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, which has been reissued after reconfiguring it to add digital 3-D. I am a fan of 3-D, and was curious to see if it added anything. I found out in no short order that The Phantom Menace is still not a good film, and that the 3-D actually hindered the film. Many of the scenes were much darker and harder to watch in the new process. I lasted barely an hour before bolting for the door and formulating a “Plan B.”

After some thought, I went for the new Denzel Washington flick Safe House. It’s a typical spy versus spy thriller in which everyone on the planet seems to be the bad guy. As the first important feature from director Daniel Espinoza, he seems to go with the theory that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There’s nothing original about the plot, characters, or execution of the action. On the down side, Safe House has the washed-out colors, grimy look, and use of darkness that seems to be favored by young filmmakers these days. Espinoza also seems enamored of the dreaded “Shaky Cam Syndrome,” in which it appears in many scenes as if the camera operator is continually sneezing while working. And if you’ve seen any of the Bourne Film entries, or similar outings, and can’t guess who the main bad guy is before the opening credits are done, then you don’t get out much. The unoriginality continues to the final scene, which seems a direct steal from the final scene in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. And former Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga, who is usually very good, has almost nothing to do in her few scenes other than look bewildered and say “yes, sir” a lot.

That being said, Safe House was easier to sit through than many of the current craze of copycat films for a couple of reasons. First, the film is set, and I gather shot, in Cape Town South Africa, which makes for a nice change from the Middle East. And secondly, the talent and charm of the leads. It’s fairly easy to watch Denzel Washington read the phone book and get something out of it. Here he plays a rogue CIA agent who’s been a fugitive for years. He turns himself in to the American Embassy in Cape Town, and finds himself at a Safe House manned by rookie Ryan Reynolds. This is Reynolds first assignment for the CIA and he his bored stiff with it. Until the bullets start flying. This is also the first time that Reynolds the actor has had a good shot at showing us what he’s capable of. Like Washington, he plays a multi-layered character, and the two work well together. There’s also the usual back-up cast of character performers: Sam Shepherd, Brendan Gleeson, Reuben Blades, and Robert Patrick, all of whom are dependable in just about anything.

The R-rated Safe House is currently playing everywhere.

But I kept thinking, “I’ve seen this done better” without being able to pick a particular title. But when I got home from seeing Safe House, I was checking through the movie titles backed up on my DVR, and saw the film I was thinking of. It was Sydney Pollack’s 1975 hit Three Days Of The Condor. So I watched it for the first time since its original release. There were lots of similarities, including the spy vs. spy motif, and that all the intelligence agencies are the bad guys. The look of the film was clear and bright, and the camera never got the hiccups. Although Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway seemed too old for their roles, even by 1975 standards, they are still very watchable performers. And the stalwart back-up cast included Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson and John Houseman. The final scene of Condor was just as ambiguous as the final scene in Safe House, and probably as in hundreds of other similar films. Which only proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same. To coin a phrase.


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