Safe House

And now for a most novel idea in motion picture plotting: The CIA and other foreign government intelligence are corrupted by several bad bad bad agents.  These agents are so bad that they’ve killed innocent civilians to cover up their own double dealings and double crossings within these agencies.  Pure genius!

I’m hooked, right?  Right?

Enter Ryan Reynolds working for the CIA as Matt Weston, a young housekeeper of a ‘safe house’ designed for suspected terrorist interrogations.  He’s never even seen live field duty because he spends his time monitoring empty rooms while waiting for an interrogation party to come his way.  He also lives with a French lady friend who knows nothing of his secret government occupation.  Matt dreams of getting out of the watchdog business and into some real field work, but his mentor, operative David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), instructs him to be patient.

His days of tossing tennis balls against a bare wall come to a halt when suspected double-agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) finds himself captured by the American government.  These armed men attempt to torture Frost for information on his recent shady activity involving the interception of a very important flash drive.  Frost keeps hush and smiles for more abuse.

Suddenly the safe house is breached.  Cue the large shootout.  Everyone dies except for Frost and Weston.  Weston, not knowing what to do, trusts the hierarchy above him, and attempts to transport Frost to the next safe house.  Things don’t go as planned and Weston must attempt to figure out why Mr. Frost is wanted dead by so many people if he wants to stay alive himself.

As swiftly stylized and edited as Safe House can be, almost completely mimicking a Tony Scott film, writer David Guggenheim and director Daniel Espinsosa (both first-timers) find little excitement in developing a ho-hum story.  They are preaching their ‘ideas’ as though they haven’t been sitting stale in a fridge for several weeks.  Instead, Safe House best functions as a Bourne copycat, resorting to the now-standard slice-and-dice editing style that replaces the need for believable fight choreography.

Not to say that action in Safe House is bad—it’s not.  In fact, it can be particularly thrilling.  But why?  The filmmakers have given us a Denzel Washington thriller that unwisely focuses on a boring Ryan Reynolds-played character who offers nothing in the way of audience attachment.  Since he’s not remotely interesting, and his motives for ushering around Washington’s dangerous character are purely a means of furthering the narrative, we only have the great Denzel to root for.  And I’m sorry to say it, but his villain/anti-hero fence walking never had me convinced that he was anything but a hero, despite fractured motives.  I won’t even get into his age issues—as good as he still looks for late 50s, I don’t buy him snapping necks like Bourne and dodging machine gun fire from multiple assassins.  He and Liam Neeson should think about Expendables 3.

The film is also saddled with supporting actors in Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepherd.  These names have side-splitting talent, and wouldn’t you know they’re wasted on one-note characters?  Perhaps Gleeson gets a little more to do here, but ultimately this megawatt cast has been assembled to deliver by-the-numbers action and story that is only elevated by the fact that we have these actors that are far better than the material would have you believe.

If I’m making Safe House sound awful, I apologize.  It’s not.  Since I recognize that I’m continually veering into negative-town here, I will attest I didn’t have a bad time at the film.  It’s adequately shot, very violent, gritty, just not for any particular engaging reason.  The movie gets a pass because the actors elevate it and make it plenty watchable, even if it’s plenty forgettable.  Ignore the ads.  Safe House is plenty safe, but you won’t have a bad time.


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Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) directs one of the finest acting ensembles of the year in “Brothers,” an isolating and tense drama featuring a standout performance from Tobey Maguire.

Maguire plays Sam Cahill, a family man marine called back into combat shortly after his brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), returns home on parole.  Natalie Portman plays Grace, Sam’s wife.  During a helicopter mission in Afghanistan, Sam’s chopper is shot down, and he and another private are taken as POWs.  The two are assumed dead.  Grace, her two daughters and the rest of the family quickly hear of this news.  Tommy takes it upon himself to turn his life around and be there for Grace and the kids.

“Brothers” actually surprised me with how low-key the movie plays out (for the most part).  The scenes with Maguire and the torture he endures while taken hostage by the enemy are less intense and sadistic than I was anticipating.  Not to say they aren’t impacting and intense, but Sheridan often cuts away from some of the more disturbing shots.  The film’s greatest strength and source of intensity comes from its many talented actors.   The young actresses that play the daughters are some of the best child actors I’ve witnessed.  10-year-old Bailee Madison, especially, has some remarkable delivery here.  Among the adult actors, Jake Gyllenhaal has a fine understated performance as the distant drunk brother who slowly turns himself into a family man.  Sam Shepherd makes the most of his cliched angry Vietnam vet father spouting off the infamous “the wrong kid died” anger towards Tommy.  Natalie Portman should earn some attention as the confused grieving wife, who in some respects, takes the reigns of the movie.

But above all, perhaps the biggest surprise is Tobey Maguire, showing a side of his acting abilities we haven’t yet seen as we’ve become accustomed to “Spider-Man” and “Seabiscuit.”  Upon his character’s return home following his mind-altering abuse and captivity, Maguire sends “Brothers” soaring with a few select, memorable scenes that ratchet up the tension immensely.  Whether his performance qualifies him for a leading actor role (the Golden Globes thought so) or a supporting actor, it’s disappointing that so many critics’ circles and reviewers are dismissing his performance.  I’ve read phrases like “you either buy his performance or you don’t,” and I can say that I did.  Maguire is finely tuned here, showcasing the dark side of his capabilities.

Overall, “Brothers” often times feels like talented actors and a handful of tense scenes piled on an average “been there, done that” story mixed in with a big anti-war message.  We’ve seen many ‘coming home’ films about the impact of combat and the destructive power it has on its soldiers.  Some of these movies hit (The Hurt Locker, Born on the 4th of July), some miss (Stop Loss), and this one definitely works very well when it works very well.  If for no other reason, the film should be seen for Maguire’s performance and those moments here that are effective.  Otherwise, I found a lot of this to be standard procedure, even if it’s done adequately by a talented cast.

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Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)