Combining a classic espionage storyline with a fluid stream of nonstop action sequences, spy thriller Safe House is available this week on Blu-ray from Universal. The movie stars Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds as squared-off CIA agents on opposite sides of official government bureaucracy, with Washington on a rogue revenge mission to divulge scandalous classified information, and Reynolds as a naive rookie attempting to sabotage him.
Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a fresh CIA recruit consigned to trivial babysitting duties at a classified government safe house for interrogation suspects. His frustratingly mundane existence is uprooted suddenly with the apprehension of Tobin Frost (Washington), a notorious agency defector thought to be in possession of a stolen cache of highly incriminating encoded documents. After poker facedly submitting to a torturous and grueling interrogation session, Frost is able to parlay an impromptu escape following a destructive and bloody raid of the facility by a band of competing rogue agents. Determined to keep Frost in custody, Weston trails after him, becoming locked into a cat-and-mouse game of pursuit that forces Weston increasingly to compromise his own allegiances, question his loyalties, and confront the real nature of his responsibilities as a covert government agent.
Safe House is a fast-paced and tightly wound action film that relies on a mostly straightforward spy premise. Driven forward by a relentless barrage of intricately choreographed fight sequences, car chases, and spectacular large-scale destruction, the movie’s most impressive quality is its ability to balance eye-grabbing visuals with swiftly placed characterization and thematic ingenuity, twisting expected tropes just enough to keep things interesting without getting bogged down with unnecessary intrigue. It’s not a particularly innovative or groundbreaking example of the genre, but it’s strong and archetypical one, subtly infusing its wall-to-wall palimpsest of fight gymnastics with distinctive but subtle thematic notes. The flow of the action is as dependent on emotional conflict and character motivation as on story machinations.
Universal’s Blu-ray is packed full of extras, including special featurettes detailing the process of developing the film’s fight choreography and special effects, and background docs on the CIA and the unique benefits and challenges of shooting in the film’s Cape Town setting. Safe House is a relatively modest but nonetheless engaging spy entry, boasting solid performances and a tightly structured narrative, and packed wall-to-all with explosive gun battles and fight sequences that resonate as immediately in the moment as the movie’s darker themes will after the fact.