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Safe House

2012-02-10 09:21
 
Safe House
What it’s about:

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA agent who works as the "housekeeper" of a safe house in Cape Town. After 12 months of boredom, Matt is called to action when a rogue agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) mysteriously hands himself over to authorities. When the safe house is compromised, it’s up to the green agent to bring one of the world's most wanted men to justice.

What we thought:

It must be a particular type of aggravation to be a Los Angeles resident who regularly has to sit through your average Hollywood film and notice the incongruous edits and free artistic licence taken during car chase scenes – routes that don’t make sense, locations that don’t exist in real life – in particular.

Capetonians get to experience that for themselves in Safe House, a furiously entertaining and non-stop action thriller in which Hollywood heavyweights Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds play spy games all over the Mother City. Though the setting is hardly painted as the paradise many locals see their city as. No, this is the "other Cape Town" - the grimy inner-city, the chaos and poverty of the townships.

The movie does feature a few heart-stopping shots of Cape Town landmarks such as Table Bay with the stadium in the foreground, though Safe House is not too concerned about depicting the city as a picture postcard destination – it has a hard-hitting action thriller to stage, which it does rather spectacularly.

Key to Safe House's thrill-ride is the to-and-fro chemistry between Reynolds and Washington, as the two build a master and student relationship while trying to outdo each other while also playing a cat-and-mouse chase game with a ruthless group of mercenaries out to capture Tobin and recover the top secret information he has in his possession.

Washington doesn't fail to make a lasting impression, playing it ever so cool, even as he is being waterboarded. It's the type of tough but tongue-in-cheek performance that he has done before – recalling so many of his anti-hero roles in Training Day, The Book of Eli and American Gangster – and he barely breaks a sweat while putting down his 97th baddie. He's certainly played more noble characters in the past, but its Badass Denzel that fans most want to see, and they won't be disappointed.

The real surprise here is Ryan Reynolds, who ditches the wise-cracking hunk persona he's cultivated throughout his career and goes to some arresting dark places as the desperate and increasingly conflicted agent. The role doesn't require much of him, other than to look deathly serious most of the time, though it's quite encouraging to see just how well the hard-man character suits him. This could be the start of a new phase for the likable actor.

The rest of the cast, which also includes a few familiar South African faces such as Fana Mokoena, Jenna Dover and Top Billing presenter Aidan Bennetts in small roles - fulfil their character briefs, which range from "CIA agent shouting orders" to "man with a gun", competently.

The disappointingly low-stakes espionage plot relies heavily on CIA-agent-gone-rogue archetypes and pinches its dramatic storytelling and bloody aesthetic from pretty much the entire action catalogue: a bit of 24's intrigue, cut with a healthy serving of The Bourne Identity's fisticuffs, a sprinkling of Mission Impossible-style doom, and garnished with Fernando Meirelles' Rio-set City of God for its visual style.

Director Daniel Espinosa may not have anything new to offer the genre, but he sure knows how to keep his audiences' eyes glued to the screen.

Safe House's high body count and epic chase scenes keep the tempo at a high all the way through, though many South Africans will scratch their heads (or more likely snigger) at how a high-speed chase goes from Woodstock to the CBD in the blink of an eye - and did that guy just instruct Ryan Reynolds to go to the Metrorail station at Cape Town Stadium?! Just par for the course, it would seem. And then Washington straps on a South African Police Service uniform...

It goes without saying that Safe House is a must-watch for South Africans who have never quite seen their country put through the Hollywood lens quite like this before. There'll probably be some carping about its depiction of incompetent police work by the SAPS, vuvuzela-wielding soccer fans and the general lack of joy to be had in this exotic place - but as a popcorn flick, it ticks all the right boxes.


Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds play a bloody game of cat-and-mouse all over Cape Town in a thrilling action spectacle that should serve as more than a passing curiosity for South Africans.

NEXT ON CHANNEL24X

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2014-10-16 23:29

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(Comments may be edited or deleted at the Channel24 editors’ discretion)
Allan Theron 2/10/2012 8:32 AM
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Great movie. Great action scenes. Even though I knew how the movie was gonna play out, I was still sitting on the edge of my seat. You forgot to mention one of the actors - Fares Fares (Vargas)
Phalanndwa 2/10/2012 1:41 PM
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what a great movie starring my man Denzel. I love the movie especially those car chase scenes. Tops.
Warren 2/12/2012 1:17 PM
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My Opinion ONLY! - I liked the movie, I am bit disappointed that they only portrayed the Mother City in such a bad light. If you've never been to Cape Town, you'd most likely never really see where you are, besides the 1 or 2 shots of table mountain, they could've just as well done it all in the USA and done some area shots in Cape Town. At the same time all the Cape Town scenes were all so poorly shot, you never experienced the "good parts" of Cape Town. Questions: Why the "job boycott" why not have the “klopse” there, they made us look 3rd world all over again. Why did Reynolds have to speak in Afrikaans at the stadium shooting, like we don’t speak English? Strange... Also why was the poor little "train ticket station" looking like that in the movie, we have a GREAT looking Cape Town Station. I know you'll all going to think i'm over the top, so be it. I just hate the fact that you have 2 scenes at the end of the movie in France and USA, with great panning and great vibey shots of those areas and the whole movie is shot in Cape Town and all they could add was those poor scenes. Just disappointed!
Wilma 2/12/2012 6:44 PM
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I absolutely loved the movie, whether they depicted the shady side of Cape Town or not.. The cool thing was you actually recognized the places and you could actually say, gosh I walk across that road every day. Enjoyed the movie!!
David 2/16/2012 3:51 PM
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I expected alot more, after awhile you can predict what's going to happen, but in anycase i did enjoy the film and i would recommend it....
frstlw 2/17/2012 12:42 PM
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Was weird seeing white ppl march along with black ppl for jobs especially since its in the Republic of the Western Cape!!
Just saying ... 2/24/2012 4:21 PM
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Thanks Warren, I couldn't agree more. I really felt that they snubbed the Cape flats in the movie aswell - as if Cape Town is just a CBD surrounded by Parrow and Townships.
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