By Hemanth Kissoon
“I used to be innocent like you; wrap myself in the flag.” Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) to Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds)
The BOURNE franchise has given me a lot of joy on the one hand – with a stunning action espionage saga – but on the other it has caused me great frustration; that emanates from the clones it has spawned. Filmmakers who lack a signature of their own, have many a time gone for something washed out, realistic hyper-thrills, and camera-work that is meant to draw us closer but instead shows the artificiality of what we’re watching. SAFE HOUSE feels like a cross between THE BOURNE SUPREMACY and a latter-day Tony Scott film. There is nothing new to the visuals; it feels like mimicry of various sources. Tony Scott’s output since MAN OF FIRE is something no one should emulate. At least director Daniel Espinosa avoids the visual incoherence of QUANTUM OF SOLACE. There is non-stop action for the first 30 minutes. We are given everything land-based: fist fight, on-foot pursuit, shoot out and car chase. And when you have these two extremely likeable and charismatic leads, you can forget about try-hard cinematography and underwhelming conspiracies, and just enjoy the mayhem. However, the film doesn’t want to sustain it, and goes down the who’s-the-double-agent-baddie route. There are only so many options. Do remember THE NEGOTIATOR starring Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacy? This is a bit like that, except not as engaging.
Instead of a compelling plot, star-wattage is chucked at us in supporting roles. Sam Shepard, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Liam Cunningham and Robert Patrick populate the frame. If we’re forced to have clumsy storytelling, I want as minimum from now on this level of acting talent. Tobin Frost is on the CIA’s wanted list, having disappeared from the agency for a decade. He pops back up in South Africa, where others are interested in him too. An underused safe house keeper, Matt Weston, comes into his sphere. They end up running around the place together beating each other up and shooting at one another, and also beating up others and shooting at even more, as the creaky plot points are eked out. I maybe making the film sound tedious, it isn’t. It’s very watchable. We’re just in fast food, easily digestible, easily forgotten, territory. Oh yeah, and the ending is a mess. I didn’t order sanctimonious triteness as a side to my main of action bullsh*t.