Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is a rogue CIA agent who is attempting to sell some calssified documents to the highest bidder. After being pursued a group of less-than-savoury characters through the streets of Johannasburg, South Africa, he opts to hand himself in to the US embassy and is imediately taken to a Safe House, where rookie agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is ordered by his superior (Brendan Gleeson) to keep the prisoner safe. The safe house is promptly attacked and only the two men survive. Weston vows to return the prisoner to the US, but finds himself questioning who he can trust and Frost begins to play mind-games.
Ever since the staggering success of the Bourne series, action-thrillers have all fallen into line behind it, using the same camera techniques and speedy action scenes. Safe House is clearly a post-Bourne film and refuses to even dangle a toe in the waters of originality. Every twist can be seen coming a mile off and the two leads barely break a sweat playing characters we’ve seen before. Those expecting to see the two men square off in a battle of wits in an interrogation room will be heartily disappointed as the safe house is left almost as soon as it arrives.
Washington is good even if he is rehashing character traits from Training Day and Man on Fire to create Frost, while Reynolds is always solid as the wide-eyed, naive character, who learns more than he might expect from his prisoner. But it’s clear that neither man is stretching themselves, but rather coasting in this slightly sub-standard pulp thriller. There are some nice individual scenes like the chase through a shanty town and Frost advising his own torturers that they’re using the wrong towels and they’d get better results using the ones he suggests on him, but these make up such a small amount of the running time that the goodwill they buy is lost through endless scenes of exposition and run-of-the-mill story-telling.
Safe House rarely pushes itself and the pacing is far too slow in the middle portion, which allows the audience to telegraph each and every twist. The scenery of South Africa is beautifully shot and there are some excellent action scenes, but overall Safe House will be forgotten as quickly as it arrived.