“Be careful what you wish for or you might get it” might be the theme of “Safe House,” starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. It’s a cautionary tale in a number of ways, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Bourne series. Director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriter David Guggenheim follow the general outlines of Robert Ludlum’s thriller books, and film editor Richard Pearson worked on the second number of the three popular film versions. The furious pace and multiple plot twists, even some of the professional relationships in the “Bournes” are mirrored here, and the outcome recalls the finale of “The Bourne Supremacy.”
Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a young CIA agent (and former Yale law student) who has the unenviable assignment of “housekeeper” in a Company safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. He has lied to his French girl friend, played by Nora Arnezeder, and he proves adept at lying and dissembling as the need presents. He spends his days in exquisite boredom and loneliness, broken only by his repeated requests to his direct supervisor, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), asking to be transferred to Paris.
Then appears rogue agent Tobin Frost (Washington), having been on the run for ten years. An expert at manipulation and interrogation, Frost receives a tiny computer file from a British agent, who is terminated shortly thereafter. (There’s a whole lot of that in this movie, accounting for its “R” rating.) After the obligatory chase through traffic—there are quite a few those, too—Frost escapes to the American consulate, from whence he is removed to Weston’s safe house.
As he’s being waterboarded by Our Side, the Other Side (?) sends a squad of hit men to spring him and, not so incidentally, get the file in question. Matt gets both of them out of there, but only by literally holding a gun to Frost’s head. The master manipulator proves too much for the rookie to handle at several points, so saving both Frost and the file looks almost contradictory. The rest of the story is a long chase, punctuated by fights and deaths.
Screenwriter Guggenheim supplies plenty of twists to keep us guessing, following the time- honored CIA-movie theme: “Trust No One.” Washington trades on his trademarked enigmatic smile; he, like Frost, is getting a little long in the tooth for the “wet work,” but the moviemakers skillfully disguise his age. Roberts almost makes us believe that Matt can pull off the physical feats and fighting bravado he does. And cinematographer Oliver Wood, a veteran of all three Bourne films, masterfully uses various South African sites to lend visual appeal.
“Safe House” has action galore, some good acting, and a pace that makes its two hours hurtle by. It’s competent filmmaking by people who know how to crank out a thriller. Fans of the genre—including, of course, Bourneites—will enjoy this one.