During a pivotal sequence in "Safe House," Denzel Washington's character is subjected to waterboarding. Washington himself did multiple takes where he was given the controversial torture method for several seconds. Some snide film critics will suggest watching "Safe House" is akin to receiving the Guantanamo Bay treatment. No, "Safe House" is merely guilty of unremarkable mediocrity.
Ryan Reynolds is Matt Weston, a young CIA agent tasked with minding a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. His job as a glorified house sitter doesn't sit well with him. Weston urges his handler, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), for an assignment with a little more action. Well, be careful what you wish for. The agency has recently apprehended the notorious and awesomely named Tobin Frost (Washington), a rogue agent who has been on their wanted list for years. Minutes after arriving at Weston's safe house, armed assailants breach security and kill everyone in the place while Weston and Frost barely escape.
The screenplay by Davis Guggenheim strings together all the worst clichés of the post-Jason Bourne spy genre. There's a stale romance between Weston and his pretty French girlfriend Ana (Nora Arnezeder). Of course, Ana has no idea that her paramour is a CIA agent and their love is doomed because of his dangerous line of work. Not only is the story derivative, but so are the visuals. The action sequences are done shaky cam style. No surprising since the film was shot by Oliver Wood, the cinematographer for the first three Bourne films. Due to Denzel's involvement, the hyper kinetic feel, and the overly saturated color palette, you'd swear "Safe House" was directed by Tony Scott. But, no, the director is Swedish-born Daniel Espinosa doing his best Tony Scott impression.
The one redeeming element of "Safe House" is its ensemble of award winning actors. Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, and Sam Shepard all play high ranking CIA officials, filling in the roles that Joan Allen, Brian Cox, and Scott Glenn played in the Bourne series. Farmiga really is wasted, especially when you consider she is the closest the movie has to a strong female protagonist. The supporting cast includes character actors like Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham, Ruben Blades, and Joel Kinnaman, who will be playing Alex Murphy in the upcoming "Robocop" remake. Each man is a welcome addition, but the focus is on the antagonistic relationship between Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington. It's clear the filmmakers were gunning for a "Training Day" dynamic with Reynolds as the naïve, fresh-faced rookie and Washington as the dangerous loose cannon. Unfortunately, their interactions are nothing more than a pale imitation of those by Washington and Ethan Hawke. "Safe House" doesn't even have the fun interplay that Washington and Chris Pine had in "Unstoppable." Reynolds, who is naturally charismatic and funny, is rendered dull as dishwater with a thinly drawn character with traits we've seen a dozens of times. Meanwhile, Washington barely registers, despite possessing a commanding screen presence.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The transfer is flawless with stunning picture quality. The South African desert and countryside are rendered white hot with bright and bold yellows and oranges. The night sequences run cooler with smooth greens and blues.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound is bold and immersive with plenty of shootouts, car chases, explosions, and body blows. Dialogue is crisp and clear.
Making Safe House (11:16) is a behind-the-scenes featurette with the main focus on Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington. The cast and crew discuss their characters and the actors' methods.
Hand to Hand Action (7:54) focuses on choreographer Oliver Schneider and all the work and preparation that went into the fight sequences.
Shooting the Safe House Attack (5:17) looks at the filming of the siege on Weston's safe house.
Building the Rooftop Chase (3:59) looks at how the production crew recreated a slum area on location and filmed the foot chase with Washington and Reynolds.
Behind the Action (8:00) is an overview about some of the movie's other action sequences including a melee at a soccer stadium.
Inside the CIA (6:07) looks at the contributions of the technical advisors and capturing the authenticity of the intelligence community.
Safe Harbor: Cape Town (8:51) is all about the various locations the production utilized in Cape Town.
There are additional picture-in-picture bonus features that can be accessed through U-Control or Second Screen via iPad or other mobile device. The Blu-ray also includes DVD and Digital Copy versions of the film.
"Safe House" was hit theaters in February during the doldrums of the Hollywood studio release schedule. It came out right alongside other formulaic action films such as "Contraband" and "Underworld: Awakening." Despite featuring great actors like Denzel Washington, "Safe House" suffers from a script that is utterly predictable and generic. Still, the film did well at the box office pulling in $202 million worldwide off a budget of $85 million. If you're a fan of Denzel and Ryan Reynolds and aren't looking for anything challenging, you could do worse than "Safe House."