Saturday, July 14, 2012

Movie Review: "Safe House" by Alex Schopp

Release: 2012
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writer: David Guggenheim
Actors: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard
Rated: R
Run Time: 115 min

I know this is coming in a few after the Blu-Ray has already been out, but honestly, I hadn't really had much enthusiasm to check this one out in the first place. But I knew I had some time this weekend, so I thought I'd sneak it in so we could at least get a review up for the film.

Off the bat, it was almost exactly what I predicted it would be. At one point I was thinking, wow, Ryan Reynolds picked a good film here; with as much crap as he's been in lately, this is good for his overall image. But then the rest of the film happened. And while I'm not saying it does much against him or anyone else in the film, it gets pretty monotonous and you start to just hope for the end to come rather than spending any extra time thinking about what this film might accomplish.

For those of you maybe not familiar, the film centers around a young CIA agent, Weston (Reynolds), tasked with watching over one of the most wanted men in America, Tobin Frost (Washington), at a safe house in South Africa. But when the house is attacked, Weston must flee with Frost to keep the CIA's package in the proper hands. Weston spends the next 12 hours trying to stay out of site from the men who attacked the house and keep Frost safe until they can bring him in. Oh, and it's well known in the film that Frost was a former CIA agent himself that went rogue some years back and has been wanted ever since for selling off CIA intelligence to the highest bidders.

That's the basic plot that the trailer provides, but even with that, I think we all knew some of the plot developments that would be taking place. There will no doubt be a handful of character turns that you may or may not see coming from specific people, but nonetheless, you know to expect that one of two people who seem good will end up being bad, and vice versa. Frost, while a criminal to the CIA, will probably show his true colors to Weston over the course of the film, and will find a way to prove his innocence or misunderstanding. This is all basic stuff for CIA-themed espionage movies. We knew all of that, so overall, unless the script can provide some really great character development, or you have a director who really takes his time with his craft and makes the film visually interesting, you know what's ahead and it's hard to find too much that will offer more than the standard.

Early on, there were a few editing effects that were used that made me think the director was really trying to make something unique with the film. It wasn't anything spectacular, mostly just peripheral shots over dialogue and cuts off of what was actually going on in the film, but it was still something different. At first, I found it neat, but then, as the film wore on, and the director was still using the exact same techniques, and I could predict when he was going to insert a specific cut; it became much more of a gimmick and annoyance than anything. He fell in love with a few specific styles of shots, and they stood out in a bad way. It almost worked against what I said earlier when if you have a director who doesn't do something special, it all just kind of feels the same - at this point, I was wishing it would have just been cut generically so I wouldn't be thinking about it and distracting myself from the actual film.

As for my other point above, character-wise, we didn't get any great character developments, either. You can see the direction they were trying to take specifically these two main characters, trying to show that hardened, emotionless CIA agents can still have heart and passion. It was a fine idea, but something missed with them. I'm supposed to care about Tobin Frost by the end of the film, and I'm supposed to be rooting for Weston to get Frost's information out to the world (sorry if I just ruined that), but I never did. Not one bit. They gave me the setup, but never brought it home. I know the exact scene where they tried to do so, but it missed. Give that scene some quick re-writes and maybe extend it just a touch and they might have got there. Instead, these were just two more characters in the film.

In the beginning of the review I stated that at one point I thought this was a great film choice for Reynolds. I really liked the tones going in, and all of the different characters they introduced were pleasing - even if it only took me about two seconds to figure out which role every one of them would play in the film. But early on it looked like it was going to be a grittier, more emotional film that most of what we see from the genre. I thought this one might just jump up and surprise me. Reynolds seemed like a nice choice for the reserved role, but then the film flipped, and they gave into the standard formulas for the genre. And then I didn't care anymore.

My favorite characters in the film were those played by Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, and Sam Shepard. They didn't get much screen time, but I kept wishing we'd get to see them a bit more. They're all really great actors and I enjoyed watching them work together on screen. But alas, other than generic plot points for their characters to live out, they didn't offer much to the film. That was a waste.

The action of the film was well done and well shot. I didn't have many complaints with it other than that it was so repetitive. This is how these films need to go, but after the first few settings where Frost tried to escape and Weston had to fight off people and corral him back in, I was over it. It was one of those movies where they didn't seem to know how to make it longer, so they just had the characters keep jumping from location to location, rehashing the same dilemmas as from the previous one. The film was nearly two hours long, and though I don't complain much about a movie being too long, this time it was. It was action for actions-sake and it got way too monotonous.

If you can't guess by now, the end of the film played out too predictably as well. I'm not sure what else could have been done with it to make it more interesting, but for the final scene, it was the most predictable one of the whole film, and I was already bored by the film, so since I knew how it was going to play out, I almost just wanted to turn it off. But I didn't. The only question that I'm left thinking is what happens with Reynolds' character? They don't say (nor did they need to), but my hope is that he either gets out of the business completely, or uses Frost as his example an mentor and turns the tables like he did. Maybe not in such a criminal way, but fighting against the system for the truth. That's cool to think about.

Overall, looking down at my review, I feel like I have it ranked too high for what I just described above. But at the same time, it was still a big budget Hollywood movie with plenty of solid actors. I'm not saying that gives it a pass, but it just means that it was still cleanly done, even though it was pretty generic and ordinary. Plus I typically am not a huge fan of this genre anyway, so I feel like others who might like this style and this premise more might be able to get a bit more out of it than I did. I gave it a 4 in Watchability, but I'm still probably never trying to watch this movie again. But, if it ever came on, or if someone I was with really wanted to watch it and hadn't seen it yet, I could sit through it again.

The film was predictable and just kind of...there. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but other than a few minor remarks about its lack of originality, I wouldn't completely discourage it either. It's a bit too long for its own good, and misses just a little bit with some of its characters and their developments to raise itself just even slightly above the stereotypical installments that the genre normally has to offer. If you were on the fence about this before, I'd say you're probably all right giving it a pass. But it's not the worst thing you could see either.

I give it a passing grade, but BARELY. You know what it got? ...F+. Click.