Essentially an exhausting two-hour chase, Swedish Director Daniel Espinosa’s espionage thriller abortively endeavours to emulate the convoluted sophistication of the Bourne trilogy. Obeying the formulaic, enigmatic and valiant assault against corruption, David Guggenheim’s script sacrifices the elegant intricacy of the Bourne films in favour of simplistic, brutal action which seldom stops to breathe.
Whilst being pursued by mercenaries, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a rogue CIA veteran who has spent the last decade betraying his country by selling America’s secrets to her enemies, evades capture by surrendering himself to the American embassy in Cape Town. After the safe house to which he’s assigned is compromised, the elusive Frost escapes. Two senior CIA operatives, Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) and David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), are immediately dispatched from Langley to prohibit a tiny file embedded under Frost’s skin from surfacing and causing a diplomatic explosion. Meanwhile, an ambitious amateur agent, Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), pursues Frost in a gruelling cat-and-mouse chase which ludicrously descends into ferocious chaos, fierce fighting and increasingly brutal bloodshed.
Safe House desperately implores to announce itself as contemporary and controversial. The film often alludes to the recent whistle-blowing phenomenon; painting Tobin Frost as a brawny, robust Julian Assange. In addition to this, a waterboarding torture scene is gratuitously employed in order to validate Safe House’s license to spark controversy.
Yet, it is the morbidly shallow script that makes the film such a cinematic fiasco. It goes to extreme lengths to outline in the most blatant manner the biographies of the characters; detailing their strengths, weakness and attributes as if they were a pedigree Pokémon awaiting their next duel. Furthermore, the conflict between Frost’s worldly cynicism and Weston’s naïve optimism is regrettably never profoundly engaged with. In essence, the film relinquishes meaningful dialogue and adopts glass-smashing, bone-breaking violence to drive the narrative.
British cinematographer Oliver Wood – who worked on the first two Bourne instalments – shoots much of the action in gritty, desaturated digital video in a futile attempt to imitate the Bourne trilogy, however, Safe House is deprived of the polished proficiency that superior series exuded.
Whilst the unfamiliar setting of Cape Town – a location hitherto rarely explored in action thrillers – provides a fresh novelty; the film is overwhelmingly beleaguered by an impoverished script. Safe House increases the violence to distract the audience from its progressively worsening, tedious narrative.
Safe House (2012), directed by Daniel Espinosa, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, Certificate 15.