Matt Weston (Reynolds) is a young CIA operative based in Cape Town. His day job consists of guarding and keeping watch of the governments top secret safe house, used to house high value personnel. However there's nothing for him to do. With no assignments or prisoners to watch he keeps requesting a transfer through his boss (Gleeson) but is continually denied. List this under be careful what you wish for as a legendary rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost (Washington) is captured in South Africa and brought to Matt's safe house for aggressive interrogation.
Then the safe house is attacked by some local rebel soldiers who are after Frost – or, more importantly, some information he's in control of. Soon enough it's down to Matt to take control of the situation. His mission, protect and transport Frost to another safe house. Only problem is Frost is one cunning prisoner who knows every trick in the book.
Safe House is director Jorge Espinosa's first English-language feature. He must have watched the Bourne trilogy the night before taking the job, because its influence is all over this film. The style and tone of this piece borrow a lot from those spy thrillers with the camera angles, the character arcs and even the pacing around CIA situation rooms harking back to those movies. Emulating a tired and predictable formula is not a good start. However the often underused location of Cape Town is put to good use here.
The centrepiece of the movie is Washington's performance as Frost. At times it does feel familiar to some of his previous roles, but he's always watchable and consistently intriguing. Reynolds, on the other hand, suffers from a lack of character depth which can be blamed on the writer more than his performance. There is simply nothing interesting about Matt Weston. Yes he's got some conflicts to deal with but it's so limited that he doesn't add up as an engaging character. Gleeson and Farmiga play the CIA bosses, barking orders and constantly on their phones. However, after the first 20 minutes it's easy to see the paths their characters are going down.
There are some good action sequences, particularly involving a car chase across a highway and a chase scene around a sports stadium, but after endless car chases and shoot-outs the film becomes tedious. Which is compounded by a predictable and flat plot twist to close the film. It's paint by numbers filmmaking with no new angle on the genre, but if you want to see Denzel take out a few baddies you might get a short thrill out of it.
EXTRAS ★★★ The featurette Making Safe House (11:16); the featurette Hand-to-Hand Action (7:54); the featurette Shooting the Safe House Attack (4:17); the featurette Building the Rooftop Chase (3:59); the featurette Behind the Action (8:00); the featurette Inside the CIA (6:07); the featurette Safe Harbour: Cape Town (8:51).