Safe House starts with an intriguing, Bourne-like premise, then unfortunately devolves into a demolition derby of boring car chases and mindless killing. Now don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good car chase, one that exhilarates you with surprising staging and even reveals something about the participants (see Bourne Identity and Supremacy, The Italian Job, Ronin). Characters in Safe House are introduced only to be killed moments later; there’s no time for emotional investment, and the bloodshed feels gratuitous.
The few quiet moments, when Denzel Washington subtly displays rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost’s intelligence and skill for reading people and situations, are interrupted by yet another car chase or loud shoot-out. It’s as though the filmmakers don’t have faith in the writing or in the actors to sustain interesting, revealing human interaction. This is disappointing given the caliber of actors the film brings together – Denzel, obviously, but also Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga (always able to imbue her characters with intelligence and texture), Brendan Gleeson, and The Killing‘s Joel Kinnaman, effective in a small part. While the other actors aren’t given the opportunity to flesh out their characters, Denzel invests the amoral, confident, fiercely intelligent Tobin Frost with more nuance and depth than the script actually provides. I think it’s a top-tier performance in a sub-par film.