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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Safe House

June 4th, 2012

Safe House - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

Expectations for Safe House were relatively high, given its release date. Denzel Washington is a proven box office draw, while Ryan Reynolds has the potential to be an A-lister. However, very few people predicted this film would earn $126.18 million at the box office. We are nearly halfway through the year and the film is still in the top five for 2012. Is it as strong as the film's box office numbers would indicate? Or was it just good compared to the average February release?

The Movie

When we meet Matt Weston, he's a frustrated C.I.A. analyst. He runs a safe house in a location that's, well, it's really safe. He's been stuck in Cape Town for a year, and because nothing's happening, he doesn't have enough field experience to get a promotion to somewhere exciting. His boss, David Barlow, understands his frustration and wants to get him a bigger job, but can't make any promises.

Fortunately, some action is about to come to him. A rogue CIA agent, Tobin Frost, is in town to pick up a file from a fellow former spy, Alec Wade. What's on the file will make both men a lot of enemies, including their former bosses. There are a lot of people who would rather this file did not go public, and some of them followed one of them and it isn't long before Wade is dead and Frost is on the run. With unknown enemies surrounding him on all sides, Frost has only one safe place to turn, the U.S. Consulate. Of course, since he went rogue a decade ago, he's a highly wanted target and they need him locked down ASAP. The closest location is Matt Weston's safe house. The interrogator, Daniel Kiefer, begins with some waterboarding, but before he can move onto more physical means of persuasion, the safe house is attacked. Soon Matt is left to guard Frost and Frost convinces him the only chance Matt has to survive is if they both get out of there. And when Matt calls the agent in charge, Catherine Linklater, it's clear Matt will be on his own.

After shaking their pursuers, Matt and Frost get to talking. Or to be more accurate, Frost talks and tries to get inside Matt's head. Frost argues that the only way this could have worked was if the safe house was compromised by someone on the inside. At first Matt dismisses it as just Frost messing with him, but he knows it's true. It throws him enough that while trying to get to the new safe house, Frost is able to create a distraction and get away and in the chaos that ensues, Matt has to shoot a cop who open fired into a crowd. Now Matt has to get Frost, avoid the local police, and he knows he can't trust the CIA to help him, because at best he's a convenient scapegoat, at worst, there's high level corruption that's going to want to eliminate him.

As far as spy thrillers go, Safe House is a decent entry in the genre, but one that's too by-the-numbers to stand out. While watching it, you can't help but be reminded of other similar films where a secret agent is on the run and doesn't know who to trust. The Bourne films come to mind, as does Three Days of the Condor. Unfortunately, this film is weaker than those. Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds do provide some excellent performances. However, the script doesn't provide a deep enough mystery for the men to solve and what twists there are, are rather predictable. For instance, the fact that Weston and Frost start to work together. That should be a spoiler, but it's not. Matt Weston's attempts to find Tobin Frost are not explored enough, while the CIA's attempts to find both of them and the potential corrupt agent are explored even less. There are some stylish action scenes in the movie, but too often the filmmakers relied on shaky camera work instead of good fight choreography.

Overall, for every strength the film has, there's an equal weakness. If you interested in spy thrillers, then Safe House is worth checking out, but the replay value is limited.

The Extras

The extras on the DVD are limited to a quartet of making of featurettes. The longest of these is an overall making of featurette that runs just over 11 minutes. There is a featurette on the stunts, one on a chase scene, and finally an interview featurette with the technical advisor. In total, they add up to roughly 30 minutes, which is weak for a first-run release. The Blu-ray has these, plus a picture-in-picture track, called U-Control. It includes a lot of the stuff you see in the featurettes, plus storyboards or behind-the-scene footage. There are three more short featurettes on the Blu-ray, two on the stunts and another on the city of Cape Town.

As for the technical presentation. The video was good, for the most part. The film has a heavy layer of grain, which I found irritating at times, but this was an aesthetic choice and not the fault of the transfer. Besides that, the level of detail was strong, the colors were good, the blacks deep with no compression issues or signs of digital manipulation. The audio track will give your surround sound speakers a workout while the audio is always clear, even in the quietest moments. I've heard some complaints that the quiet moments are too quiet compared to how loud some of the actions scenes get, but again, this was a conscious choice by the filmmakers and you can't blame the audio track for that.

Finally we get to the price. The Blu-ray combo pack is just $3 more than the DVD, which is a fantastic price, given the additional extras, the strong technical presentation, and the inclusion of the DVD and digital copy.

The Verdict

I wanted to love Safe House, but the film borrows too heavy from the collection of clich├ęs in the genre, and while it is good in a lot of ways, it rarely approaches the level of greatness. I would call it a solid rental, leaning towards a purchase if you are a fan of spy thrillers in general, or of the cast in particular. If you are interested in buying then the Blu-ray Combo Pack is clearly the better deal over the DVD.

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Filed under: Video Review, Safe House