Genre(s): Action, Thriller
Universal | R – 115 min. – $34.98 | June 5, 2012
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Writer(s): David Guggenheim (written by)
Cast: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Ruben Blades, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick, Joel Kinnaman
Theatrical Release Date: February 10, 2012
Features: Featurettes, U-Control, Second Screen, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Number of Discs: 2
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Disc Size: 45.8 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 3.5/5
Some movies work because of the script, others despite the screenplay, Safe House is such a film that gets more than convoluted and borrows a message done numerous times before, including the highly successful Bourne movies. This movie, though, has a good enough story and characters which takes it out of the bargain bin into the rental realm.
Safe House introduces us to Matt Weston (RYAN REYNOLD) — no relation to Michael Weston of “Burn Notice”, at least that I know of —, a “housekeeper” of a safe house in South Africa. It’s a remedial job where he sits all alone, rarely seeing any action. He does have a beautiful girlfriend, Ana (NORA ARNEZEDER), whom he lies to because it’s kind of a requirement in any movie, and perhaps real life, that the one closest to them cannot know what they actually do.
In the meantime, we meet a former CIA agent turncoat Tobin Frost (DENZEL WASHINGTON) who has taken possession of an important document housed in an electronic file that will destroy the international community. Intelligence agencies around the world are clamoring to get their hands on it before Frost sells it for $10 million to the right buyer. On the run from snipers and assassins, Frost finds refuge in the U.S. consulate, sending red flags to the CIA in Langley where they order Frost to be moved to a safe house in Cape Town. Once there, an interrogation team led by Daniel Kiefer (ROBERT PATRICK) is sent in to water board Frost and get the information and where it is located.
Before they can complete, the safe house is breached and each of Kiefer’s team is killed leaving only Weston to move Frost. They make their escape where a chase ensues onto the streets, though Frost is hardly cooperative as the mind games begin between the two. Frost suggests that the attack on the safe house was hardly accidental and puts it into Weston’s mind that there are people within the CIA that want him dead and soon enough, the idea wasn’t preposterous.
Frost manages to escape and despite the insistence of the CIA director (SAM SHEPARD) to come in, Weston takes it upon himself to track and re-capture Frost before it’s too late. Meanwhile, Frost is making his own plans, getting new identification and selling the file.
Safe House doesn’t break new ground and in fact resembles a spin-off of the Bourne movies, which, to my surprise, isn’t too far off given the three Bourne films and Safe House share the same cinematographer, Oliver Wood. Stylistically, they use a teal and orange color palette, giving it a gritty look that is the norm for the genre. On that front, this isn’t a movie that’s special and instead relies on the cast to take it into the above average category.
The score also is reminiscent of many spy-thrillers. Composed by Ramin Djawadi (“Prison Break”, “Game of Thrones”, Iron Man), the score is well done, though it’s not going to be on my iPod anytime soon…
In any case, the plot isn’t anything special and like any movie with an average script, it relies on the cast. It’s no surprise that Denzel Washington once more makes a badass antagonist (not nearly as good compared with his character in Training Day), though I was surprised by Ryan Reynolds who in other roles usually plays smart aleck, making snide, sarcastic remarks every other scene. But Reynolds plays it straight and while the character isn’t special or particularly memorable, it’s probably is most nuanced performance to date and shows he’s more than comedic actor.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa in his biggest picture to date (he also helmed a crime drama entitled Easy Money) and written by David Guggenheim (creator of a failed Fox TV pilot, “Exit Strategy” starring Ethan Hawke and Tom Sizemore), Safe House is a well pace spy thriller featuring two fine performances. Admittedly, the plot itself is fairly predictable including the twist towards the end, but because of the dynamic between Washington and Reynolds – along with a cool, gritty, looking picture –; it makes this worth at least a rental.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 4.0/5
The Blu-ray comes with a partially matted, partially glossy slip cover, similar to others from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. All features are in HD unless otherwise noted.
Making Safe House (11:16) – This featurette contains interviews and behind-the-scenes footage showing how director Daniel Espinosa and stars Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds came together to bring the story to life.
Hand-to-Hand Action (7:54) is an interesting featurette in which renowned fight choreographer Olivier Schneider (Taken) puts the actors through the intense training and rehearsal required to create the film’s scenes of deadly hand-to-hand combat.
Building the Rooftop Chase (3:59) – Filmed in hardscrabble Langa, Cape Town’s oldest township, the stunt sequence required a massive amount of precision and planning. Again, the cast and crew offer up their thoughts on the intense sequence and the technical difficulties of shooting it. It’s a short but informative featurette.
Inside the CIA (6:07) – Technical advisor Luis Falcan III, a 30-year CIA veteran talks about working with the cast and collaborating with the director. He leads audiences on a walk and talk through the CIA offices and explains just how closely this film matches up to reality.
Previews – Big Miracle, American Reunion
** BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVES **
U-Control – With this feature activated, you can watch the movie with Picture-in-Picture or Scene Explorer. As far bonus content is concerned, it offers up storyboard comparisons, stills from the movie and interview footage, some of which can be seen in the individual featurettes. With scene explorer, you can get some cool raw footage to how certain scenes were shot.
This is actually one of the better “U-Control” features I’ve encountered in a long while…
Second Screen – Used in conjunction with the pocker Blu app, this feature syncs up your Internet connected Blu-ray player with a portable device or computer. The production designer and CIA technical advisor takes you through the safe house offering up tid-bits about the set. Personally, I just wish these kinds of features were available on the disc itself rather than having to install an app to view it…
Shooting the Safe House Attack (5:17) – The initial attack is examined with behind-the-scenes footage and on-set interviews with the cast, crew and technical advisors. It takes the viewer from rehearsals to the final shooting.
Behind the Action (8:00) – Legendary stunt coordinator Greg Powell (Harry Potter, The Bourne Ultimatum), fight choreographer Schneider and tactical advisor Dan Hirst (The Dark Knight Rises, World War Z) lead viewers through key action sequences involving dangerous driving stunts, heavy gun play and frenetic fight choreography.
Safe Harbor: Cape Town (8:51) – A popular tourist destination, Cape Town is rapidly becoming one of the most-photographed cities in cinema. The filmmakers reveal the reasons they set the movie in Africa’s multicultural hub.
UltraViolet and Digital Copy – You can either use the UV for streaming the movie or the DC for use on a portable device. This is the way all digital copies should be presented, with an option for either version.
BD-Live portal for additional content that more often than not, is useless.
This release also includes a retail DVD Copy.
VIDEO – 4.5/5
Safe House is the latest movie, in a string of many, to use the digital medium and although I realize purists prefer film, and there are advantages to it, digital also gives director’s different ways to play with the look. For this, Daniel Espinosa utilizes the apparently Internet-only controversial orange and teal coloring which is present throughout. The movie, presented in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio and 1080p high-definition, also has a fair amount of noise which is abundant but not to the point of being distracting or taking away from the detail levels which are excellent. The colors, as mentioned, can be powerful but that’s how the film was intended to look at times, i.e. a bit oversaturated.
AUDIO – 4.25/5
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t the best I’ve come across, especially for an action-thriller such as this, but it’s good enough. The dialogue levels are decent and when the movie kicks into high-gear, it does seem to be able keep up with the various gun-firing and action. The only thing that’s keeping it from perfection is that compared with other Blu-rays released recently, it’s not quite as dynamic.
OVERALL – 4.0/5
Overall, Safe House may not offer anything new in the spy-thriller genre but it’s at least entertaining primarily because of Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, both of whom turn in respectable performances. The Blu-ray offers up solid audio and video transfers a nice selection of bonus features to keep you busy for a few hours. I can’t quite make a recommendation for purchase, but if you like the two leads and you like the genre, then maybe it’d be worth picking up in the $15-20 range.