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Safe House

Sun, sea, sand and the CIA - ★★★½

Poor old Ryan Reynolds.

2011 was meant to be his big break-out year. Picked to front DC’s last big untapped comic-book franchise, The Green Lantern, and co-star in one of the summer’s most-anticipated comedies, The Change-up, hopes were high for Vancouver’s biggest export since Pamela Anderson and her red swim suit hit primetime.

Unfortunately both tittles flopped and Reynolds even lost his title as People Magazine’s sexiest man to housewives favourite Bradley Cooper. To further compound things, he even lost out to “Gosling” and “Giggs” at the annual “Ryan of the year” awards.

So why not set about repairing that reputation by kicking off 2012 with a nice safe option, a by-the-numbers action film?

Safe House sees Reynolds playing Matt Weston, a CIA safehouse caretaker in South Africa. Denzel Washington’s Tobin Frost is a former U.S. agent who has turned himself in to the American authorities after a decade at large. After the men assigned to interrogate and protect him are all killed, it is up to Weston to guard him until a new team can make it in the country. As they are forced to go on the run, doubts over Frost’s original motives in abandoning the U.S. emerge, while Weston’s true allegiances are brought into question back at Langley.

It’s not really fair on Reynolds just how easily Denzel Washington manages to dominate every scene he is in. It has taken me years to go from a feeling of genuine resentment to that paternal sense of comfort and reliability that seeing the 57-year-old’s name in the opening credits and hearing his trademark “A’ight” and “Umm Hmmmm” sounds now brings.

| o | - Must. Defeat. You..... Next. Stop. Gosling.... Must. Be. Top. Ryan....

Another of the main selling points of the film which sets it aside from the competition are the locations. Daniel Espinosa, with his first major feature, knows how to make the most of the city with his direction. The grainy hand-held camerawork shows the best and worst of the city and the set-piece in the city’s Green Point Stadium (built for the 2010 World Cup) is a fine example of how to put together a big location-based scene while still retaining a real sense of time and place.

There’s a lot going on as we jump back and forth from situation-room style scenes in Langley to the heat of the action in South Africa. Credit to the editor Richard Pearson (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy) for never allowing the viewer to lose the run of themselves but instead always feel like they know exactly what’s going on as our two heroes keep moving.

The final word has to go to the supporting cast. Brendan Gleeson continues his role from Green Zone, Vera Farmiga is a slighter more bad-ass version of the character she played in Source Code and Sam Shepard is the grizzled old agency vet that we all wish he’d tackle more often. Throw in a nice tubby T-1000 in the shape of Robert Patrick and a few moments with Liam Cunningham and you really couldn’t ask for more. They all combine to add a real touch of class to the film.

Of course at the heart of it all, it could be twenty minutes shorter and the story is a load of bunkum afraid to tread off the well-worn paths of similar action films. But if this is the quality of popcorn movie we’re getting in the traditionally barren months of January and February then I’m more than happy to take it.

USA/South Africa / Directed By: Daniel Espinosa / Written By: David Guggenheim / Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham / 115min / Action / Release: 10 February 2012 (US/Canada), 24 February 2012 (UK/Irl)

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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.