Review- Safe House

Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington in Safe House (Universal)

Safe House is a film that in many ways is your standard spy-caper. I will give it credit by saying that it does try to do some different things to slightly alter the equation, however, it is ultimately the bits that are the same old song and dance that really get in this film’s way and trip it up.

To start out with the more positive notes, the film is very watchable and there’s a decent amount of tension due to the kinetic editing style. The beginning of the film is quite creative in as much as the cuts come quickly, but also break chronology such that you are investing in a situation, and getting information later. Eventually, the lackluster nature of the information betrays this artistry to an extent but this facet of the film did its utmost to elevate the piece as a whole.

The editing style was in part a necessity. The cinematography didn’t feature the worst abuses of hand-held camerawork I’ve seen, but the camera is hyperactive in this piece and it can be a turn off to those prone to motion sickness or are aesthetically averse to such things. For the most part it works, but there are points within it where I wish it would relax and the quick edits really salvaged many shots making them more watchable than they otherwise should’ve been.

The script develops a decent story in most respects. The setup and ultimate plot of the antagonist are intriguing enough. The problems come into the storytelling when elements that are overly-trite or too frequently done are brought into the mix in terms of dialogue and certain character’s attitudes. As with any tale of this nature suspension is of disbelief is necessary because there will be moments of absurdity. There are good elements to the scripting but definite issues that overshadow the positives to an extent.

The performances to an extent are also a mixed bag. In the positive column are Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. Washington has thankfully taken to some quieter, more intelligent and less bombastic parts recently as opposed to things like Training Day, where I don’t find him nearly as interesting. He plays this character intelligently, but also gets to layer him. Reynolds has played action before but he also plays in a romance plot here and in very dramatic confrontations with many characters in this film and does equally well in all of them. It’s likely a performance of his that will be overlooked, though it should not be.

As for the problematic performances: One, sadly, is Brendan Gleeson’s, it’s not him in his top form. I’m unsure as to whether the character was supposed to have a slightly faded Irish brogue or if his American dialect was just off in this part, but it influenced the end result regardless. Another is Vera Farmiga and some of the issue is her character. There’s nothing to her. She’s a plot device. She believes what will likely be the official version of the story is really what’s happening, other than that there’s no characterization to her. I’ve liked Farmiga in some works quite a bit and been a bit too hard on other times, so I think when she’s stuck with a character of this ilk she really has a tough go of it.

Lastly, there are some surprising and pleasant twists but one of the biggest ones occurs in the third act and it’s terribly transparent from the start of the scene based on the entire execution, and the scene is far too long and it really detracts from what should be a pivotal moment.

Truth be told, I wasn’t planning on seeing Safe House, I saw it to have a dine-in movie experience. However, I will say that while I didn’t like it it was better than I thought it would be so you may see it differently than I did.

5/10

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Review- Green Lantern

Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern (Warner Bros./DC)

Note: Some spoilers within.

Of the rash of comic book films that are due out this year I’d put Green Lantern near the bottom of the list with regards to how much prior knowledge I had about him going in (As opposed to The X-Men with which I am quite familiar or the upcoming Captain America, which would rank lowest). Thus, the expectations might not be as great but the onus would be squarely on the film to convey who this guy is what the rules of this particular universe and his abilities are. It’s serviceable but it could’ve been handled better. A lot of information about who the Lanterns are and what they do is disseminated immediately in a voice-over and considering that there will be more information to absorb later along with a lot of flashy fight sequences that don’t require thought it’s a risky strategy and there was some debate of the finer points amongst my party after the film.

Having said all that for the most part the foundation is laid and laid well not only in establishing Hal, his world and how it changes when he is summoned but also going forward should the films continue. A factor this film benefits from is that it’s not a super-being tale but rather gifts endowed to a regular person, which makes identification somewhat easier. While typically I am more drawn to the vigilante-type a la Batman, this film does do enough well to be considered better than The Green Hornet, who is of the vigilante mold, especially when you consider that this film managed to incorporate comedy with making it one, which is a tribute to the casting choice of Ryan Reynolds.

One of the decisions that didn’t work as well for this film is that in essence it contained dueling antagonists. On the one hand you have Parallax who is essentially a personification of fear that grows more dangerous and violent the more it defeats and consumes, which was pretty cool and different from what you typically get, and on the other you have Hector Hammond. Hammond is a scientist who gets infected by contact with one of Parallax’s victims and that creates a psychic link. Part of the problem with devoting so much time to Hammond is that he’s essentially a tool. It does give us a good performance from Peter Sarsgaard but his narrative ends rather unceremoniously.

Not to say Hammond was unnecessary but it just feels certain aspects of the film are short-changed in the interests of keeping the running time manageable. While Hammond’s being developed, I wanted more Hal, while Hal’s having his doubts I wondered what was happening on Oa. It seems as if in the interest of trying to get a lot covered the whole wasn’t all it could’ve been. On the positive, I thought the sequence with the requisite backstory regarding Hal’s father was very well-handled as was the introduction of what relationship all these characters had to one another. It’s just that plotting and pacing suffered after a while when trying to do too much all at once.

There are then with two antagonists and two climactic battle sequences; little fish then big fish. While I’ll be the first to complain when one seems far too long these were oddly truncated and anti-climatic. They each have their “Oh, that was cool” moments but also have that “Oh, it’s over?” moment as well.

The animation was rather good considering that there was a lot of it but definitely could’ve been improved further. For the record I did not see this film in 3D as I saw no need to as it is a post-converted film and I try to avoid those.

Lastly, don’t leave as soon as the credits start rolling as there is a little teaser at the end. Or you could leave because it really bugged the hell out of me. Can we knock it off with the teasers already? I recognize that running time begins at fanfare and ends when the credits stop rolling but more often than not these tacked on scenes leave you scratching your head or rolling your eyes rather than giving you anything you’re actually glad you stuck around and watched. Any superhero film has a built-in “excuse” for a sequel: it’s about a superhero. There’s always a bad guy. You don’t need to bend over backwards for it.

Anyway, having said all that I do want to stress that I think this film does more well than it does poorly it just sometimes that the latter is easier to expound upon. It’s a fair indoctrination to the character and the Green Lantern concept as a whole and is enjoyable popcorn-fare.

6/10