I have a number of issues with the new movie “Safe House,” starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. My main concern is the director’s (Daniel Espinosa) inability to tell a story coherently. I wrote about this issue recently when I discussed the movie “Haywire.” More and more it seems multi-plex fare consists of movies that do not make sense. The makers of these films seem to think that as long as their movies are busy enough there is no need to tell a clear story. “Safe House” is a case in point.
My criticism concerns the way “Safe House” has been shot and edited. These elements serve to convey or, in this case not convey, the story, or what little there was of it. The camera work, for the most part, was hand held, shakey and head ache inducing. Some narrative filmmakers do this intentionally because they think it will make the movie more “real.” By “real” they mean documentary like. I see a lot of documentaries and, with little exception, the camera work is as smooth and steady as can be. Documentary filmmakers do use tripods, despite the fact that they are often working with lower budgets. Therefore there is no reason why Espinosa, whose budget can nab name actors, cannot do the same. The jumpy camera work here is only exacerbated by the film’s hyperbolic, disorienting, quick cuts editing style which renders many scenes indiscipherable. My suspicion is that the bad choices made in camera work and editing might actually be a “smoke and mirrors” trick to disguise the fact that the story is thin and not even remotely original.
The story of “Safe House” comes down to a basic story telling device attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, the maguffin. (Make no mistake, I am not comparing “Safe House” to any of Hitchcock’s films). The maguffin is the thing that everyone in the film wants. What it is, is not important. It is there to motivate the story. In “Safe House” Washington plays Tobin Frost, a rogue CIA agent with information that he is willing to sell to the highest bidder (the information being the maguffin). Frost is captured and brought to a safe house (a secure location of some kind) for interrogation. Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a CIA operative, in charge of the safe house. Things do not go as planned and soon Tobin and Weston are on the run. Gun fights, car chases and crashes galore follow.
It is only when “Safe House” slows down and allows its characters to talk that it starts to point to some potentially interesting qualities. One of these scenes involves Ruben Blades as a document forger who gives Washington some good life advice. Scenes like this are few and far between and are not nearly enough to carry the movie.
Washington, as always, gives a fine, earnest performance. Reynolds, usually a comedy actor, comes across well as a less than competent CIA operative who wants to prove himself.
What really bothers me about “Safe House,” is that it will soon be clogging the cable and home video pipelines. People will see it for its cast and maybe, if they do not care about the storyline, will enjoy some of the action. This will only serve to bring standards down and give more fuel to movies that really need a script doctor, a tripod and an editing style that does not depend upon disorienting visual gymnastics.
Safe House, Director Daniel Espinosa, 2012,
Universal Pictures, 115 minutes, rated R
Posted on February 14, 2012, in New and tagged Alfred Hitchcock, CIA, Daniel Espinosa, Denzel Washington, documentary, jumpy camera, maguffin, Ryan Reynolds, Safe House. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.