BE careful who you trust.
Safe House is a high-octane, adrenaline-fuelled action thriller that borrows liberally from The Bourne Identity and its sequels, replicating the same jittery handheld camerawork as a serpentine conspiracy plot reveals skullduggery at the blackened heart of the U.S. administration.
Director Daniel Espinosa doesn’t stint on the pyrotechnics, gun battles or breathless chases.
He opens with a protracted game of cat and mouse through the teeming streets of South Africa that lights a fuse on two hours of double-crossing and betrayal.
The lines between right and wrong are continually blurred in David Guggenheim’s lean script that sacrifices character development for edge-of-seat excitement and macho posturing.
Agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is caretaker of a CIA safe house in Johannesburg.
Humdrum routine is thrown into disarray by the arrival of grizzled agent Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick) with a prisoner: rogue operative Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), who sold out the agency to the highest bidder.
In the middle of a highly-charged interrogation, the building’s defences are compromised by a gang of gun-toting thugs led by Vargas (Fares Fares).
Matt escapes the hail of bullets with Tobin, bundling the prisoner into the boot of a car as he makes a hasty exit, alerting his boss David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) and senior agent Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) to the clear and present danger.
Safe House accelerates into top gear in the frenetic opening 10 minutes and barely touches the brakes as director Espinosa orchestrates each set piece with aplomb, including an extended car chase that culminates in vehicles smashing through the central reservation into oncoming traffic.
A race through the crowded favelas of Johannesburg has obvious similarities to the highly-charged Morocco sequence from The Bourne Ultimatum, but still gets our blood pumping as corrugated iron roofs give way under the strain of stampeding feet.
Washington may be in his fifties, but he physically matches his younger co-star and relishes the verbal sparring such as the first time Tobin gets the upper hand and pulls a gun on Matt.
“Are you going to kill me?” whimpers the fledgling agent.
“I only kill professionals,” replies Tobin coolly, wounding the younger man’s pride.
Reynolds copes admirably with the rigours of his underwritten role and Nora Arnezeder willingly fulfils her brief as Matt’s scantily-clad love interest.
The identity of the mole within CIA ranks is obvious, but we play along with screenwriter Guggenheim as he attempts to convince us it is not the most likely candidate.
“People don’t want the truth any more. Keeps them up at night,” claims one CIA operative by way of an explanation for their shameful actions.
People might not want the truth, but they certainly want to be entertained, and Safe House confidently delivers.