Thursday, July 19, 2012

Safe House (2012)

     It is conceivable that, somewhere, a world exists where Ryan Reynolds may be considered to have a "medium build" (which is how his character Matt Weston is repeatedly described).  In that world, I'd be too short to be a member of the Lollipop Guild.  Okay, that is an extreme exaggeration, but it does serve to highlight one of the problems I had with Safe House (2012) – there was an obvious gap between the character envisioned on the page and the actor hired to play the roll of Weston.
     Reynolds has the ability to play smaller than his size, and his muscle is the lean type, meaning that the right camera angles (and keeping him clothed) can give the appearance of a regular guy.  This tends to work better in the comedies he does where showing off his buff body would throw a serious wrench in the works of his being a goofy, boy-ish Everyman.  In an action film, it is nearly inconceivable.  Maybe it is his ability to play younger – Weston is likely six to eight years younger than Reynolds, not coming to the CIA in his early thirties – the made him the best available fit for the role.  It certainly seems to have had a younger Jeremy Renner in mind.
     The other issues I had follow.  Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is a bad ass because of attitude more than ability.  I don't want to discount the attitude factor, but I really prefer when Washington is given characters with more definition.  Vera Farmiga (Linklater) just takes up space, half mumbles her lines, and does not seem to be interested enough in her role to even make eye contact with her fellow actors.  It would seem her days of being able to be the pretty face are well over, but not giving consistently strong performances is not a way to ensure more work as she drifts into the age range that Hollywood avoids.  I also get baffled every time I see Sam Shepard (Whitford) show up in a very conventional role. This is the guy who wrote The Tooth of Crime (1972) and La Tourista (1967).  I get that he is much older now, but having him stand in as part of establishment – to represent establishment through his own skill at bringing weight to a role – has never felt like a good fit to me.  That trend continues here.
     Other than those minor things, I found Safe House to be a decent, workman-like film.  Like Echelon Conspiracy (2009), I suspect that production was helped by incentives to make a movie in a non-traditional location.  Strangely, the lighting (and color correction) did more to make South Africa seem different than any effort to establish the setting.  Still, the action is steady without giving way to gore or over-the-top excesses.  The characters inhabit something resembling the real world (save Weston being of medium build), where the real enemy is entrenched corruption.  I'm not sure why it was so successful, but it is better than average.

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