Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick
Denzel Washington is increasingly becoming the last of a dying breed –– a movie star with real presence and a genuine charisma that totally commands the screen whenever he’s on it.
Stars like him used to be in abundance back in the glory days of movies. But now, they’re increasingly becoming an extinct species.
Bland, weightless, and faceless younger leading men such as Gerald Butler, Channing Tatum or Sam Worthington are replacing them. They have no distinctive personality or persona and blend into the wallpaper without leaving a trace.
Hollywood’s current idea of stardom is changing and, unfortunately, it’s changing for the worse.
Fortunately, that old Washington charisma and presence is on full display in his new action thriller, Safe House, which on the surface is a routine action thriller in the “Jason Bourne” mold.
In other words, House was photographed with a mainly hand-held camera with jerky ADD-type editing during the fight and action sequences –– all to hide the fact that it’s basically an ordinary “been there, seen that” spy plot that’s been done countless times before.
In the film, Washington plays an ex-CIA professional gone rouge with a deadly computer file, which contains top-secret information of all the evil crimes and corruptions that all intelligence agencies around the world have committed in league together.
Turning himself in to the American consulate in Johannesburg in South Africa to protect his life, he’s transported to an unused, secret integration facility watched over by a lower-tier CIA employee, Ryan Reynolds.
However, when a group of assassins invade the hideout, Washington and Reynolds go on the run across the country through cities, townships and sports stadiums, through one near escape after another, with the killers hot in pursuit under orders from a secret bad guy who is obvious the moment he appears in the film.
What keeps the film watchable is Washington’s rather interesting minimalist performance, which is a toning down from his usual persona.
Playing a secretive, strong and silent character, he convincingly portrays a man haunted by his evil past deeds committed in the name of national security, as well as someone who’s been lied to and taken advantage of one too many times.
Reynolds, one of the newer breed of lightweight leading men and no doubt because of his pairing with Washington, radically steps up his game with possibly his best performance so far on screen.
Gone is his usual smarminess and flippant attitude; it’s replaced with a deeper and intense performance of a desperate man trying to stay alive and to prove himself.
However, a script that goes through all the usual “man on the run” clichés without adding anything really new hinders both Washington and Reynolds.
It’s all very smooth and well executed, but one can’t escape the feeling that we’ve seen it all before, too many times.
Adding to that is an unsatisfactory ending that’s sure to disappoint audiences, though ironically, the next to last scene in the film sets up an obvious plot twist that the movie fails to take advantage of.
In the end, Safe House is a passable, entertaining time-waster, anchored by two terrific performances and some impressive action sequences. Unfortunately, it stops short of transcending into something better.