In Safe House, CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) serves his country by sitting idle in a property used to harbour, interrogate and at times torture CIA's most wanted.
One day the inexperienced rookie receives a call and he's told he should expect a guest. That guest is Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington); a character who practically wrote the CIA rule book before going rogue and wreaking havoc in countries scattered across the globe.
An impromptu attack befalls the ironically-named Safe House and forces Weston to confront a dilemma: does the rookie stand and fight? Or does he flee with the most notorious criminal the CIA has engineered?
What ensues is a barrage of suspenseful action, tightly shot and loaded with visceral fighting scenes that appear authentic; as if punches penetrate stomachs and bullets torture ravaged muscles.
Without hesitation, Tobin Frost snaps the necks of men who stand in his way, letting a subtle smile slip through his mechanical demeanour as if taking a life is as common as tying a shoe lace. And yet, Denzel manages to make this psychopath respectable, humanising him and ultimately redefining the audience's understanding of morality.
Although Ryan Reynolds speaks perverted comedy fluently, it's great seeing him take on a demanding role. He manages to steer clear from the macho man stigma, showcasing vulnerability and uneasiness beneath his muscular physique. His descent from by-the-book operative is entrancing, gluing viewer eyes to the screen as he evolves (or arguably, regresses) as the movie continues.
Both characters engage in a battle of wits. As Weston tries his best to keep Frost in his custody, the two play a game of cat and mouse and director Daniel Espinosa keeps the explanatory dialogue to a minimum, demanding the audience concentrate on what they're seeing rather than what they're being told.
The action in Safe House has a profound effect for a few reasons, one of which is the stark contrast of eloquent and haphazard camera work. Most of the shots are close ups that squeeze a talking character into frame, with enough of the supporting character to know where he stands in relation. Like Frost and Westonâ€”who are constantly hunted by the good, bad and everyone in betweenâ€”the camera faithfully recreates the sensation of being ambushed.
But the real thrill in Safe House comes from a few scenes where Frost and Weston exchange dialogue. In these scenes, where the camera generously captures both characters, there's a wonderful philosophical interplay. The tempo slows down and attention is drawn on one character falling from grace while another tries to climb his way back up. The ongoing battle of wit combined with these exchanges make this action flick intellectually electric.
Action flicks are generally plot-less clichÃ©s lined with all the CGI effects your pupils can handle. Safe House is a cut above the norm for throwing in fleshed out characters who navigate their way through complex relationships, all the while entertaining us with body-bruising action.