Blu-ray Review: Shaky Cam Mayhem in Joburg With SAFE HOUSE
If you guessed that the facility will be hit by the same assassins who seem to have an inside man, you deserve a cookie. Do Frost and Weston match wits as the former tries to evade the latter? Yeah, more or less. What about the three CIA heads back in Virginia, do they harbor inexplicable doubts about Weston's loyalty in spite of his otherwise clean record? You bet. Is the inside man the first person you expect for the exact reasons you expect? Uh huh.
The film, directed by Daniel Espinosa (Snabba Cash) could be any direct-to-DVD Wesley Snipes vehicle from the beginning of the 2000s, and everything is so very expected and by the numbers and yet still hopelessly vague. We ultimately find out why the hitmen are after Frost, and the revelation never really adds up to the lost lives and mayhem they've caused in the course of the movie (also: their benefactor must be incredibly loaded to fund this last-minute operation on foreign soil). Weston's arc is more like a line, going for from bored idealist to jaded action hero (speaking of, how exactly was he able to extricate himself from South Africa after the very public shooting of a local cop?).
Washington is his usual cool, detached self, barely there in most of his scenes, just occupying a space where a character should be. What starts off as series of mysteries about the character--what does he have, what does he want, what will he do--collapses by the end of the movie. On e of the most embarrassing aspects of the script is its insistence that several characters refer to him as some kind of legendary spy/bogeyman.
Reynolds tries to give his character some depth as Weston's circumstances become more desperate. There's a subplot about his physician girlfriend who doesn't know what he really does for a living and that draws on ideas about how people in his line of work betray the ones they love, but because the two of them spend so little time onscreen together, there's no real sense of tension with regards to whether or not their relationship will survive this.
Plus, Espinosa can't resist putting the camera on a tilt-a-whirl during action scenes, meaning that the film's several hand-to-hand action scenes will having you questioning what precisely just happened between those two characters when you're not reaching for the Dramamine. It's cinema of distraction, moving and making a lot of noise (god, is this movie loud) without actually saying or showing anything of interest.
Picture and Audio
Did I mention this movie is loud? Well, the 5.1 audio will serve you well if you like the sounds of movie-style silenced gunfire (thoomp thoomp thoomp!), smashing glass, and the crush of metal as cars collide.
Again, it's a big-deal studio picture, so you know the gloss is going to be there with the 1080P presentation, although your mileage may vary on the intentional grain effect (I half thought this was a Tony Scott movie at times). Night time scenes look especially noisy, in attempt to give the movie more of a gritty feel. More smoke and mirrors: attempting to make the movie look cheaper than it is, somehow succeeding in all the wrong ways.
Plenty of making of-type stuff here, but nothing especially illuminating.
Safe House is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal Pictures.