Recently some friends of mine had a discussion about who within the proverbial 25-54 demographic could potentially be considered the best actor of that demo/generation and some interesting names came up for discussion. And the tactic that big studios tend to employ periodically through the years is take the flavor of the month when it comes to younger actors and pair them next to an older, established Oscar winning actor, put them together in a thriller movie and see what comes out of it. And such would appear to be the case of Safe House.
David Guggenheim's first feature screenplay was directed by Daniel Espinosa, in what appears to be his American directing debut. Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds, The Change-Up) is a CIA agent who is the guardian of a safe house in Johannesburg, where the job may be mundane but it's still in South Africa, if you catch my drift. His mundane day is about to change when the agency brings in Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington, Antwone Fisher). Frost is a well-traveled agent and is wanted for treason on several continents. Most recently, he managed to obtain a file from a comrade in MI6 who was later killed, and is on the run from mercenaries who wish to capture him, to the point where said mercs attack the safe house where Frost is stashed at. When the house becomes compromised, Weston has to flee the house with Frost and the two cross South Africa with the hopes of not only getting somewhere safely but also trying to find out how valuable this stolen file might actually be.
At one point, Guggenheim's script was part of the fabled 'Black List' in Hollywood, which translates into being one of a group of scripts that have been passed around studios and were well-liked, but not liked enough to actually be made into a movie anywhere. However, the script did eventually get made, and with Reynolds and Washington as the co-stars no less! Not having read the script I do not know how much changed between its' notoriety for toiling around and its cinematic realization, but as the film goes on, I cannot help but feel how relatively ordinary it is. The hook to get the viewer in may be different, and their respective quests may even be a little different. But at least when it comes to the latter, the tweaks are fairly minor, and the journey to get to the destination is hardly all that different from what we have seen in similar films that have put together say, Brad Pitt and Robert Redford or even Colin Farrell and Al Pacino. Safe House does not reinvent the wheel, it merely makes it decent-looking.
The inclusion of a couple of intriguing names in the supporting cast does pique my personal interest, albeit briefly. Brendan Gleeson (The Guard) plays Weston's contact and advisor at Langley and Vera Farmiga (Higher Ground) is a colleague, but both are wasted in their roles. Consequently, Reynolds and Washington are left to their own devices, and neither does anything memorable or noteworthy to distinguish themselves from any other random action movie either has appeared in separately.
Which is a same too, because in my earlier mentioned discussion, someone floated Washington's name as one of the greatest actors in their generation. Personally, I thought he was a lot more set in the autumn of his life compared to some of the others that were discussed. Moreover, you would be hard pressed to fill one hand with the number of credible performances he has turned in in the last decade. And Reynolds never came up in the discussion. And both act in the Safe House like the discussion I had was validated. And combined with Espinoza's action which is in the same vein of Jason Bourne, I do not know what the fuss is about with Safe House.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The AVC-encoded 2.40:1 high-definition presentation from Universal is pretty good. Most (if not all) of the film is shot via handheld camera and possesses a fair amount of detail. The water beads are noticeable in the opening sequence where Washington is water boarded, along with action that occurs indoors. When you get outside, the South African urban landscapes and slums are awash in browns and reds that look accurate, with black levels that look inky and providing a good contrast during viewing. All in all, Universal does the film justice on Blu-ray.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is equally up to the task, again starting early on from the time Washington in the safe house and mercenaries come to try and take him. Flash bang grenades can be felt through the walls while Reynolds and Washington are in the next room. Out of the room, bullets strafe by, some with clean hits, but all are designed to through you in the soundstage. The car chases also pack a punch when it comes to ambient noise through all channels, with panning of louder and softer effects sounding clean and convincing. Directional effects are also up to snuff as well, and in quieter moments, dialogue remains well-balanced. Superb stuff on this disc.
Universal seems to try and suggest this is a loaded disc, and there are a few worthwhile things here, but at the end of the day I was left feeling underwhelmed. The U-Control picture-in-picture track is included, which houses additional interviews and pictures, and a secondary 'Scene Explorer' track has B-roll footage and storyboards for comparison. You can also watch the U-Control track on a computer or tablet via network connection (and the Pocket Blu app), if you are so inclined. Moving along, "Making Safe House" (11:16) shares the thoughts of the cast and crew on the story and their respective characters, along with working with everyone, and how the script evolved through the time before it was picked up. "Hand to Hand Action" (7:54) walks us through the fight sequences, including the rehearsals, walkthroughs and general talking about, and some test footage of the fights are even included for consideration. This segment is surprisingly interesting and well worth the viewing.
Moving along, "Shooting the Safe House Attack" (5:17) is just that, where there is some production breakdown and the actors recount their approach to it, along with providing some minor breakdown on the scene itself. "Building the Rooftop Chase" (3:59) also covers that action-packed shot as the breakdown and intent of the sequence is covered, and the stunt coordinators and tech advisors for the shoot discuss things as well. "Behind the Action" (8:00) examines the driving scenes and some of the fighting, and one of the driving crashes is touched on a bit too, which is nice. "Inside the CIA" (6:07) shows us the life of the Agency on set through the eyes of a retired agent who is a tech advisor for the movie, and some minor production design is hinted at. "Safe Harbor: Cape Town" (8:51) looks at the location and gets into the location and production design aspects of the shoot to boot. The package comes with a standard definition copy of the film, along with digital copies on the Ultraviolet and iTunes (or other) technologies for your preference.
At the end of the film, I felt like I needed a safe house from Safe House. It is not imaginative and the performances reflect this, despite an occasional teeth-clenching moment or two when it comes to fighting and/or driving. Technically the disc does look and sound fantastic, but Universal could have brought a little more to the table to make this a complete disc. As it is, this is worth a decent and entertaining rental, but very little else.