'Safe House': What the Critics Are Saying

Safe House Poster - P 2012
Universal Pictures

Safe House Poster - P 2012

One reviewer called the Denzel Washington-Ryan Reynolds action thriller, in theaters this weekend, "surprisingly well acted."

Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds' action thriller Safe House hits theaters on a crowded weekend, up against The Vow, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and the 3D rerelease of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. But how did the critics view Safe House?

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa, Safe House centers on rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost, who is back on the grid after years on the run. When a safe house he's remanded to is attacked, rookie operative Matt Weston escapes with him and the two try to stay alive. Written by David Guggenheim, the R-rated Universal film co-stars Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard and Vera Farmiga.

Critics have given Safe House lukewarm reviews, with its aggregate rating on Rotten Tomatoes a 53 percent as of late Friday evening. But audiences were more forgiving, giving it a 70 percent rating.

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The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy called it a "gritty, repetitive extended chase … with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds well paired as corrupt CIA op and naive agency greenhorn."

"Terse and understated, this is a spy vs. spy tale designed to minimize talk and maximize action, not at all a bad thing in movies but over-worked to near-exhaustion here," McCarthy wrote.

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis writes that Washington, as a rogue agent, isn't showing "any of the aches and pains of age." In the end, though, Dargis says "Safe House is essentially and very effectively a rollicking smash-and-crash chase movie that happens to be surprisingly well acted," commending Washington and Reynolds in their respective turns. And though the film tries to tack on some layering, a la the Bourne movies, "the story ebbs into more familiar cynicism rather than building toward political complexity."

The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan gave a rather positive review of Safe House, declaring that the movie "shows how much can be done with a business-as-usual CIA-thriller script when it's bolstered by effective acting and expert direction." Taking a moment to spotlight Washington, he gives due praise to the veteran actor, who "has developed a special knack for dark-side portrayals that bring intensity and flair to films like Training Day, American Gangster." Crediting director Espinosa, Turan writes that he and his team have injected "an unmistakably stylish and unsettling tone" to Safe House, keeping "audiences off-balance and wondering when they'll get a chance to catch their next breath."

USA Today's film critic had a similar take, giving the film two and a half stars. Like McCarthy, they acknowledged the chemistry between Washington and Reynolds, but at times Safe House "stumbles by putting Washington too frequently in observer mode." Though it offers nothing new ("It's a familiar tale of conspiracy and corruption at nearly every level, as well as idealism shattered"), Safe House "is a bracing action thriller made all the more watchable because of its two lead performances.

But the New York Post's Kyle Smith wasn't buying into the thriller at all, citing the discrepancies in the acting performances. He writes: "The main attraction of the movie is watching Washington school Reynolds — not in spycraft but in acting. Reynolds is sweaty and frantic. Washington learned long ago that the trick is not to act, but to be."