Ryan Reynolds is actually in a good movie!
Mind you, the dark and bloody Safe House is not a great film, but it does feature Reynolds and a little guy named Denzel Washington providing some potent acting fireworks. They combine to make this action thriller well worth watching, and the rare good film for Reynolds to add to his mostly stank resume.
Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a CIA operative who has spent a year sitting in a safe house bouncing a ball against a wall and listening to tunes. He longs for the big assignment in the field, but the organization seems content to keep him out of the way and performing menial tasks.
Things change mightily when Tobin Frost (Washington) is brought to his house for some questioning and good old healthy waterboarding. Frost is a former agent gone rogue, selling secrets to enemy countries and making a decent living from it. He’s also a dangerous, murderous son of a bitch. Throw into the mix that he’s also virtuous, and you have your typically complicated Washington character.
Much goes wrong when a band of baddies infiltrates the safe house, and Matt must take Tobin for a high-speed ride. This particular car chase is bona fide proof that director Daniel Espinosa does a bang-up job with action scenes. It sets the bar high for the rest of the film, and Espinosa doesn’t disappoint. The film is stacked with great chase scenes, car crashes and nerve-wracking shootouts.
Reynolds, an actor I like a lot, is very good here as a sensitive agent who will break your freaking neck if you push him too far. The role is a physically demanding one, as Matt is put through the wringer with many hand-to-hand combat scenes. Reynolds can look beat up with the best of them.
As he did with Chris Pine in the also fun Unstoppable, Washington does a great job working with a youngster. He and Reynolds make for a great, albeit complicated, screen team. Watching Washington here, you just get a sense of an old pro knowing exactly what he needs to do to provide substantial entertainment. It’s not up there with his best roles, but Washington certainly makes Frost a memorable character.
The film is full of reliable actors and actresses. Vera Farmiga is good as a senior agent with questionable motives, as is Brendan Gleeson. Sam Shepard is fun as the man in charge of it all who seems to have had enough of the whole spy game thing. Ruben Blades is great in a small and pivotal role as Frost’s friend.
The film has a few flaws. The romance between Matt and his justifiably confused girlfriend (Nora Arnezeder) is a disposable one. That element of the film could be left out and not missed at all. While some of Matt’s choices seem tragically stupid, that could be chocked up to his being a novice. Still, his stupidity gets a bit grating at times.
There’s a good mystery at the center of the picture, and I won’t spoil any of it here. I’ll just say that it kept me guessing until the very end. It’s hard to pull the wool over these well-worn eyes, but Espinosa and friends managed a good job of it. Making Espinosa’s feat all the more impressive is that Safe House is his English-language film debut. Judging by his success putting film together here, I’m thinking he’ll get some more work.
So there you have it. Ryan Reynolds in a good movie. He manages about one in every five or six. Having Washington’s name in the mix usually means a good movie, so Reynolds had the movie gods on his side this time. I’m curious to see if he will be able to keep the good streak going in the future.