Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is working as a low level staffer for a NGO, he has boring days and advises his very hot girlfriend Ana (Nora Arzeneder), all the boring office gossip and sicknesses.
Matt is lying, he does have a very boring job but he works for the CIA as a “Housekeeper”, effectively running and maintaining the titular “Safe House” in Cape Town, South Africa. Not the glamorous Paris posting he yearns for and hassles his boss Barlow about (Brendan Gleeson).
One day is the same as the other, repeatedly bouncing a rubber ball and checking in with Langley with codewords and other spy stuff. Matt’s boredom is suddenly interrupted by an urgent message that a “Guest” is due very shortly, shepherded by an extraction team led by Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick).
Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) a notorious ex-agent gone rogue, who has been selling secrets to the highest bidder for years. Tobin walked into the Cape Town US Consulate seeking protection from assorted bad guys hot on his tail.
Taking a note from the Donald Rumsfeld welcome handbook, Tobin is barely through the door before he is being water-boarded, apparently to persuade him to divulge his secrets. Cape Town of course providing more interview “options” than a debrief Stateside, where do these filmmakers get such ideas from.
Meanwhile, the assorted bad guys are heavily armed, have located the Safe House and pay a visit. Ultimately Weston finds himself on the run with a very dangerous man, attempting to stay one step ahead of a very persistent and knowledgeable enemy, led by Vargas (Fares Fares).
Weston has to warn off his girlfriend, initially with platitudes, “I may have to work late”, almost with machine gunfire in the background.
The movie is then one long chase and is very effectively shot in a shaky, Bourne, realistic anti-Hollywood style, with some decent real car chase work. Washington speaks in his usual quiet manner, flashing that Hollywood smile and acting all knowing, which in this case, proves to be well founded.
You are never quite sure who is on who’s side, the Washington contingent act out the usual “situation room” cliches. Barlow and his colleague Linklater (Vera Farmiga) are then dispatched to sort out the mess.
It is good to see different locations, although the violence and choice of locations are unlikely to cause an uptick in Cape Town tourism.
The actor with the most to do, is unquestionably Reynolds and he surprises, creating a very believable character, in a unbelievable setting. Clearly basic CIA training is quite comprehensive, if this depiction is to be believed. At times he appears suitably terrified, although with the physicality, gunfire, explosions and choreographed fight scenes, there will be an element of truth in his actions and reactions.
This is a violent film, the body count is high although not unduly gratuitous. The story is relatively predictable but is filmed with style and commitment to the action on display. Both lead actors would consider this a solid entry on their resumes, as mentioned Reynolds perhaps with more to gain in broadening his range.
Sam Shephard as the control in Washington gets to chew the occasional bit of scenery but the film largely focuses on the interaction between the leads and their fight against a seemingly endless supply of faceless baddies.
A solid action thriller with decent performances, not the most original story but the setting manages to disguise the fact we may have seen similar before.
A worthy entry into a crowded genre and certainly worth two hours of most film fans time