New on DVD: Safe House (2012)

Safe House is of interest mostly for the films it borrows from, mainly the Bourne series and Training Day.

Like the former, it’s a spy movie about one guy’s attempts to survive while exposing a conspiracy within the CIA. Like the latter, it offers Denzel Washington in award-winning charmy/scary mode.

Washington plays Tobin Frost, a legendary American agent who went rogue a decade ago and has spent the last few years selling the secrets of the world’s big espionage agencies to the highest bidder. An international fugitive, Frost is viewed almost as superhuman – smarter, creepier, and more deadly than just about anyone else.

Fleeing a small army of well-armed assassins, Frost takes refuge in an American consulate in Capetown, South Africa. He figures he’ll be safer in custody than on the street.

He’s soon transferred to a safe house in the city, a high-tech installation in a nondescript industrial-type building. This secret facility is run by CIA newbie Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), who has spent the last year bored out of his gourd with a dead-end assignment that finds him sitting alone most days waiting for something to happen.

He won’t be bored much longer.

Frost arrives accompanied by a half dozen CIA specialists who proceed to waterboard him for information. How tough is this guy? So tough that he cockily asks his torturers to time how long he can handle the brutal treatment.

Before long, though, those mysterious assassins arrive to kill everybody but Matt and the handcuffed Frost, who take off running, getting only minimal help from Matt’s bosses in far-away Langley (Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson).

And all the while the wily Frost is playing head games with the nervous young agent.

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Safe House has been adequately directed by Swedish helmer Daniel Espinosa ... or, rather, it’s been half-adequately directed. When it comes to building suspense Espinosa does an OK job.

But like so many young directors, he doesn’t have a clue about filming action, and the fights and chases in Safe House are a meaningless blur of shaky cam, staccato editing and whiplash movement.

Want to see a model of action filmmaking? Check out Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 The Wild Bunch.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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