Denzel without Tony – Safe House (2012) review
The Denzel Washington movie gets a makeover. Well, a new director and setting. Everything else is pretty much as standard.
(Daniel Espinosa, 2012)
“No, but honestly, Denzel, you won’t even notice. We’ve got chases, fights, you get to play a charismatic villain in a ‘Fro, and we’ve got a younger star to look gormless to make you look cool…”
“I don’t know,” replied Denzel. “It feels like Tony should be doing this.”
“Oh, and we’re filming it in Cape Town.”
Safe House is proof that Denzel Washington has practically become his own genre – and he no longer needs his regular sparring partner Tony Scott to deliver the kinetic action. He strides through his film with insouciant cool, whispering his lines and looking on in detached amusement as Ryan Reynolds busts a gut in a brutal fight. Denzel clearly doesn’t have anything left to prove.
Fortunately, Reynolds – and Swedish director Daniel Espinosa in his American debut – do have something to prove, and they distinguish Safe House from every other ‘airplane’ movie about rogue CIA agents and hapless rookies. Reynolds is still – STILL – not quite a star, and the role of “Denzel’s understudy” is practically a rite of passage for the Hollywood newbie, previously essayed by Ethan Hawke and Chris Pine. Downplaying his usual cocksure persona, playing his part with the humility of a failed comic book superhero, does Reynolds a world of good.
Espinosa, meanwhile, latches on to the Capetown setting to add a frisson of style and uniqueness to the usual shenanigans. In place of Tony’s obligatory blue filters, there’s a warm, hazy light to proceedings that means – even given the obligatory fast-cutting – you can see a little bit more than usual. And Espinosa throws himself into locations such as Green Point Stadium and the shanty towns to capitalise on a city that never looks or feels quite like America.
Given Denzel’s last South African set film, Cry Freedom, you’d expect plenty of commentary on the nation’s post-apartheid identity. You’d be wrong. There is zero socio-political relevance to the location, and the film is all the more refreshing for it for its refusal to be too obvious. Otherwise, of course, it’s the usual hermetic, divorced-from-reality seal on any film to do with the CIA, where it’s a case of spotting the mole (not difficult, given the supporting cast) and knowing that just about everybody will end up dead or wounded.