Today’s film industry is starting to remind me of Bill Murray’s main character in that genuine classic Groundhog Day; it’s stuck in repeat, reliving the same day over and over until it gets it right, which it is obviously yet to do. Each year sees several iterations of the same film released again at right around the same time as the last, see the upcoming schedule if you don’t believe me, and Safe House is a movie that sits quite comfortably in a mould set by many others past. It’s Ryan looking ripped, Washington being way too cool considering his circumstances, the government being shadier than the stock-standard foreign militia and everything that everyone touches exploding terrifically. They’ve made it before and you’ve seen it before, but there is a reason for that; it’s a safe bet, as far as blockbusters go this sub-sect is as sure as any to make people happy and the handlers a profit so why would they not play another hand?
There’s not much in terms of narrative or thematics that I can fill you in on; if you’ve seen the trailer or any other action movie ever then you know all of the surface story already and the layers lower than that are a veritable vacuum. If you really want a synopsis then this will do as well as any other, The Odd Couple team up for combat. So the real question that I need to answer is as follows: Does this film finally perfect the model and break the cycle or are we set to see it again come next February? Unfortunately the short answer is no, this isn’t the ultimate action thriller but to leave it at that would be doing “Safe House” a disservice.
Though the story is stock it’s told in an interesting enough style that it still seems fresh in the moment, the realization of derivation not coming until after you leave the cinema. The central reason for this is its predilection for purposely perplexing the narrative and pacing out a generous amount of twists; eventually there is sure to be one that will surprise you. The action too keeps you on the edge of your seat, constantly leaping into loudness from silence and staggering you with sound effects when you least expect them. The execution is technically excellent and keeps the experience exciting; your adrenaline pumps as if you’re in danger, though the tale being told is actually as safe as, well, houses, as the ending will attest. The film has more grit and gravitas then you may be expecting, it attempts to take on the topic in a serious manner, but it lacks any real edge, even a blunt one.
These, though are all criticisms that shouldn’t really apply to a picture like this, you don’t see the likes of Safe House because you want something that will revolutionize either your mind or the medium. On the other hand there is one flaw featured that is inexcusable and that is a complete lack of characters. There are moments where the people in the picture are given some slightly meaty material to chew on: the consequences of their actions – Reynolds’ lead admirably doesn’t find it easy to kill the bad guys for most of the film and feels it each time he does; this is an interesting juxtaposition with Denzel who takes an exaggerated version of the traditional action hero approach, not even looking at his victims as he guns them down, so little does he care – and the fallacy of not appreciating what you have are the two topics that these scenes centre on; it would however be a Mistake to confuse these conversations for character.
Everyone in the cast quite simply plays whatever stereotype is required of them: Reynolds the in over his head hero, Gleeson and Farmiga are bickering armchair agents while Washington plays the wise-cracking, wizened veteran. These are all roles that people have proven they can play, but in a way that’s a bad thing; Gleeson doesn’t feel the need to ham up as a hint or justify his actions later and Denzel’s once daring schtick has since become flat if still occasionally fun. It’s probably a stupid perspective but I can only really care about a film when I care about the people in it, but as far as I could see there were none in this picture at all and so the experience was an emotionless one for me.
So for every step that this film takes forwards it tends to take another one backwards, both in the footprints of pictures that have come before. So another iteration passes without any real progress being made, but the process has resulted in the release of another perfectly passable action thriller and if that’s all you want then you should be well satisfied by “Safe House” for the two hours of your stay. I’m not sure that there’s much else to say.