Safe House

Cape Town Ultimatum


10 February 2012| No Comments on Safe House     by Sean Chavel



This thriller respects the audience’s intelligence to such a degree that I wish it had respected it more and gone further with its deeper subtexts. Safe House is one hell of a chase picture however, and for sake of exotic locales, it is set in Cape Town in South Africa. Denzel Washington, in anti-hero mode like “Training Day” or “American Gangster” as Tobin Frost, was once a top shelf CIA spy before he went rogue. Cornered by a team of guerilla assassins during a street shoot-out, he turns himself into the American consulate. He is escorted to a “safe house” for interrogation, run by the inexperienced Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds, “Smokin’ Aces”). Then there is a breach, and it forces Reynolds to protect and re-route Washington to another government haven without getting gunned down.

Tobin is like a 1970’s blaxploitation ghetto king crossed with the mind of Anthony Hopkins at his most sociopathic ruthless. While under Matt’s custody, you know that Tobin is apt enough to break loose and beat away, so we watch the vigilance of a man waiting for the right opportunity to strike. Until then, Tobin gets inside the head of Matt, with a dialect as sharp as his natural born killer instinct. Yet Tobin does not spout venomous threats as much as demoralize Matt’s neophyte professional tendencies. Tobin does begin to reveal though about why and how he was sold-out by his government a decade earlier.

What is startling about Tobin is how much he begins to make sense about everything he preaches, and so, one way for him to win is to break down the kid Weston’s sympathies, as if to persuade him over to his team. But Weston cannot screw up this prisoner transport – his future depends on it – but it seems that a number of supporting cast CIA members are nevertheless looking for him. Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard and Robert Patrick are the easily typecast CIA officials. The rest of the international hitmen, who want the disc file first and blood second, are played by an assortment of anonymous bearded Middle Eastern actors.

There are maybe three action sequences in the last half hour or so. They are all very well done. I think it would have been a better movie had the filmmakers concentrated on creating one super-whammo action sequence and discarded the others. Use the rest of the time to probe the ins-and-outs of the disc and explicate the network of sick corruption. Yet young filmmaker Daniel Espinosa at least attempts to make a difference in the action sequences – the men actually get tired, alas, they are not invincible. With all the head-banging, stabbing and choking, they get out of breath overtime. And we’re out of breath watching them.

110 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “The Hit” (1984); “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007); “Salt” (2010); “Hanna” (2011).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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