by Modigliani The film is five things. One-two-three: an Action-Spy-Thriller. There are shoot outs, car chases, foot races, and fist fights. It involves the CIA, so you get jargon and government officials, mission details, large computer screens displaying information, and the scene where someone important asks a question to a roomful of people and several generic people answer, bing, bang, boom, with bullet-point information. There are plot twists, situations where the objective is clear but the means of accomplishment convoluted, and information is constantly withheld (so you sit 85% of the movie thinking “What’s on the disk????”) Four: it’s a Denzel movie. He plays the veteran paired with someone younger (see Training Day, Unstoppable, Remember the Titans, Man on Fire, He Got Game, Antwone Fisher, The Bone Collector). He has all his mannerisms and vocal inflections (though he doesn’t say “My man.”). And he’s smarter and more capable than everyone else. Five: a coming-of-age story. Yup. In the midst of all the action-ing, spy-ing, thrill-ing, Denzel-ing, there’s character development. Ryan Reynolds is Matthew Weston, an inexperienced, bottom-of-totem-pole CIA agent, stationed in Cape Town, South Africa. Officially, he’s what’s known as a “housekeeper.” This entails boxing (a bag), throwing a ball (against a wall), and hanging about in case the CIA needs to store a prisoner in the “safe house.” (Imagine an apartment mixed with a mini police precinct). Weston needs experience to secure a transfer from Cape Town to Paris (where his girlfriend is moving). The problem is: nothing is happening in Cape Town. How can he get experience when he works in a prison-apartment with shit to do? Enter international criminal Tobin Frost (Denzel). There’s a whole gang of CIA agents escorting Frost, a high-high-high level prisoner. Weston shows them the rooms they want, answers questions, then stands around. Not something you would put on a resume. Enter the team of mercenaries hunting Tobin Frost. The gunmen crack the safe house and kill nearly everyone. Weston escapes with Frost. What ensues IS something you would put on a resume. While development occurs, most of the time is spent running, shooting, punching, and breathing heavy. You notice Weston’s growth, but we never stew in it. A good example of stewing in the growth would be Casino Royale (2006). It’s running time is 144 minutes. Safe House, at 117 minutes, could have easily gone on for so long. Which may have been a good thing. I think the biggest weakness of the film is (all the cliches aside) the undeveloped subplots. We barely see Weston and his girlfriend (Nora Arnezender) together. Can we care as much about them as we do, say, James Bond and Vesper? Then there’s top-ranking CIA agents Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) and Linklater (Vera Farmiga). Their feud is given two, three minutes of screen time? But the pace is fast. I enjoyed the film. I think it’s safe to watch.