Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Safe House

It can be difficult to make a good espionage movie set in the post-Cold War era, but now and again little gems are brought to light. Recovering as I am from yet another winter cold, I caught Safe House on Netflix. This stars Ryan Reynolds as a very junior CIA agent, in this case stuck in a dead end assignment in Cape Town, where he is the custodian of an unofficial CIA safe house. His job is basically to idle the day away, awaiting a call from his superiors, while trying to persuade his boss, played by Brendan Gleeson, to post him to Paris.

Why Paris, you ask? Because he is dating a hot French doctor who is about to return there, and Paris has to be a better career move in the spy stakes than South Africa.

Enter Denzel Washington at stage left. Denzel plays Tobin Frost, a legendary CIA agent from the 1980s and 1990s who eventually got sick of the agency and dropped off the grid to become a sort of freelance spy. He is walking around with some very incriminating data which he wants to auction to the highest bidder. He is in cahoots with a corrupt MI6 agent played by Liam "King Theoden" Cunningham, who obtained the files in the first place.

I don't really want to go much deeper into the plot without spoiling it, but it is a classic spy drama, with wheels turning within wheels, and a mounting sense of desperate paranoia. Reynolds is great as the wet behind the ears Ivy League type who gets dropped in the deep end of a fast evolving situation, and reminds me a little of Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor. Washington can be a bit wooden at times, but it is nice to see him playing the embittered veteran, and boy is he bitter this time! Other people worth mentioning are Sam Shepard as the deputy director of the CIA, Robert "Terminator 2" Patrick leading a team of undercover special ops troops, Vera Farmiga as an ambitious thirtysomething CIA operator and Fares Fares as a chillingly ruthless assassin.

Robert Patrick leads a CIA covert ops rendition team in this one.

South Africa is a very different choice for a setting. It occasionally intrudes into the plot - e.g. a forger is located in a shanty town, and there is a great scene that takes place during a football match.

You might come away from Safe House feeling that it is a bit formulaic, but it ticks so many of the boxes for this genre that I have to commend it for its technical execution, and I always admire that, even if some originality is lacking. The light in South Africa, which was also evident in the TV series Black Sails, is just phenomenal, and seems to make the camera's job easy, particularly in the scenes outside Cape Town.

Safe House is a grittier movie than the Bourne series. People are able to screw up and do so, frequently. Silly things go wrong for the good guys and the bad guys, and I like that. Worth seeing if you can catch it on Netflix this month.

What happens in the safe house, stays in the safe house, or does it?

1 comment:

  1. I'll add it to my watchlist!

    Bernard Hill played Theoden, by the way, but I always think of him as Yosser from Boys From the Blackstuff; "gizza job!"