Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ten Statements About....SAFE HOUSE (2012)

"Do you LOOK like Miss Daisy, jack ass?"
"Do I make you nervous?"

1) I am sad to say it looks like I have to give up on my war against Shaky-Cam. When an entire theatrical feature, with a fictionally linear narrative, is shot almost entirely with hand-held cameras in such a way that even the quietest moments are jittery and wavering....there is no hope of victory.

2) But let's give some credit to Daniel Espinosa for one thing--even if he doesn't bother to shoot his film in a way that we can focus on what is happening for any length of time, he does try to create a specific feel with certain choices, primarily the way he has the dialogue at the end of scenes slightly out of synch with the picture, so that the conversation transitions us into the next change of scenery. It's one of the nicer touches in a film that is bereft of anything original.

3) And make no bones about it--this is a film that has nothing new to bring to its table. The plot rumbles along exactly has you suspect it will (to the disappointment of people like me, who hoped Washington was going to do another cool villain turn), the villain is exactly who you suspect it will be, and the plot complicates and resolves exactly as it is meant to.

4) Let's also give credit to Ryan Reynolds, who manages to suppress his natural cockiness for this film throughout. It's actually one of the better performances I've seen from him, and it allows him to create a little suspense when he interacts with Denzel Washington's Tobin Frost...because he's playing someone unsure and nervous, it allows us to wonder if Frost is, in fact, getting into his head.

5) The chemistry between Reynolds and Washington does manage to carry the bulk of this film, even as you realize that the twists and turns of their relationship are already pre-ordained.

Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds argues who initiated
the 'two guys pull their gun at the same time aimed at each
other' trope...
6) Another small credit must go to the use of Cape Town as the backdrop for this story. It's a seldom used city, but is very cinematic in its way, looking at times both European and Alien. Plus, it's not far from these long stretches of bush which at least looks very striking during the de riguer overhead shots of cars rocketing down lonely roads and kicking up dust.

7) What was the purpose of that waterboarding sequence? To prove how bad ass Washington was by surviving two dunks? To take up a little extra time before the next 'surprising' plot complication trundles along? There seems to be no real point for Espinosa to dwell on it like he does.

8) You know, there are a number of decent actors who are wasted on tiny crap roles that are thoroughly without nuance--when Robert Patrick shows up to interrogate Washington, you know he'll be killed at the end of act one; when Sam Shepherd shows up as the CIA supervisor, you know he'll try to cover up the 'shocking' nature of what Washington stole, etc. And Rueben Blades' appearance in the middle of one of Cape Town's slums seems....odd, given that they could have cast him with a native Afrikaan actor (especially given the apparently native Afrikaaners who play his family).

"Why yes, I am stronger...thanks for asking, Scarlett."
(I wonder if anyone will get this joke...)
9) The third act takes on an unintentionally hilarious cast, as the same set pieces are repeated over and over again, beginning with that weird chain where Reynolds fights someone, then wanders to the next point in time to fight another someone. And if the final confrontation, where it seems like somebody shows up to shoot somebody else after the last somebody was put down become surreal in its silliness.

10) That being said...if you're going to just connect the dots with your dull, unimaginative little story, at least have the courage to connect that last dot and unite Reynolds with his blonde, curvy Hot French Girl. By choosing to cut to credit rather than give us the clinch you positively know is going to happen a second after the film ends is disingenuous at best.

Overall...a film that tries to hide its lack of ideas behind handheld razzle dazzle, it's a waste of talent, time and, well, anything else you can think of. It doesn't even have the courage to be as bad-ass as it keeps telling you it is.

Back to the Atlas again, managing to time it so that I arrived in the auditorium right after the hated Firstlook ended. The only really striking trailer is the one for Ridley Scott's Prometheus, although I find it fascinating that the makers of Project X seem insistent that found footage is good for Every Damn Genre Under The Sun, including teen comedies.


  1. I got the joke! Kelly Clarkson's 'What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)' video, right?

    1. Why, yes, Jason....yes it is. Especially after I saw and posted the video this week, it was still vivid in my mind when I saw all these shots of Reynolds doing the monitor thing! :D