Film: ‘Safe House’; Cast: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Robert Patrick; Director: Daniel Espinosa; Rating: ***1/2
As the Wikileaks expose last year – that shamed governments the world over – shows, one man’s act of defiance – Private Bradley Manning – and another man’s desire to help him – Julian Assange – can indeed change the world. ‘Safe House’ pays homage (without perhaps intending to) to the Manning-Assange episode by building a credible and fast paced thriller.
Like other films in the sub-genre, most notably ‘Training Day’, ‘Safe House’ pits a rookie CIA agent with and against a highly experienced one. Here too Denzel Washington plays the wizened and toughened older man with a mission, while Ryan Reynolds plays one who has to both protect and fight him. The two together are pitted against adversaries greater than the rookie’s wildest imagination.
Washington, as has been his forte, plays his character with many shades of grey with aplomb. However, as more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are revealed, his character undergoes a transformation not only in the mind of the perennially on-edge young agent, but also the audience. The mystery, though expected, gets a grand sweep thanks to the corruption in espionage as exposed by the Wikileaks episode.
The film is backed by a credible performances from both Washington and Reynolds. The first plays the experienced, expert manipulator, while the latter is good as the man both scared and awed by his senior.
Another high-point of the movie is its action. Those bred on the ‘Transformers’ type special effects-laden-action will be bored, but those who like the ‘Bourne’ style of action, will be thrilled by its raw, gritty fight sequences, gun battle and car chases through Cape Town, South Africa.
Yet, there are many things which the film could have done better. Despite a very good pace throughout, it falters towards the end, slowing down to deliver its messages. That could have been edited. In a film, the best message is the one which is not delivered, yet felt by the audience.
Secondly, though the film takes material from various sources and mixes and them, it does not really do anything original with them despite making an attempt. Perhaps it was the inexperience of debutant director Daniel Espinosa that is to be blamed for this.
Yet, beyond all its flaws, what holds the film strongly together is the power-packed performance of its actors, especially Denzel Washington. Unlike many others before him, he seems to have gotten better after an Oscar, developing an uncanny ability of taking anything offered to him, and raising the bar with his compelling acting. ‘Safe House’ is safe, because Washington is in it.