Safe House is a 2012 spy-action-thriller involving Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, South Africa, lots of people being shot dead, and the piercing cries of vuvuzelas.
What could they possibly have in common?
Director: Daniel Espinosa
The ambivalent bad guy who you want to root for: Denzel Washington
Van Wilder: Ryan Reynolds
Reynolds' movie girlfriend: Ana Moreau
It's shocking to me she didn't have other things to do: Vera Farmiga
It's hard for me to not think he's his Harry Potter character: Brendan Gleeson
DID NOT recognize him but he plays Kiefer: Robert Patrick
Intense-eyed guy in the final Safe House: Joel Kinnaman
Leader of the squad chasing Denzel: Fares Fares
Denzel's passport-making friend: Ruben Blades
Two of Dickens' novels are the link between the London author and the Hollywood movie.
The novels are: David Copperfield and Great Expectations.
Because those novels, like Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, are "Bildungsroman".
What the fuck is a "Bildungsroman"?
As defined by Merriam-Webster: a novel about the moral or psychological growth of the main character. (More info)
Usually, I will add, associated with the growth of a young protagonist. Jane Eyre, Kim, Of Human Bondage, A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Anne of Green Gables, The Kite Runner, Never Let Me Go, A Clockwork Orange. All deal with the lives of a young person, child or teenager, acquiring his or her maturity.
One of the things that makes Fight Club so fascinating is that it is, essentially, a Bildungsroman, except with an "adult" protagonist. It focuses heavily on consumerism, and by utilizing the Bildungsroman the film says that consumers are children and The System is the ever-commanding adult. What we're witnessing with Tyler Durden isn't just terrorism, it's teenage rebellion. The clarity at the end of the film is, we can argue, the maturity we associate with adulthood. But not just the maturity, also the autonomy. And that's key. Edward Norton was, at the beginning, mature but not free. He's a well-behaved child. Then he's free but unruly. Finally, with Pixies "Where is My Mind" blaring in the background, he has claimed self-authority and sophistication.
As with the novel, movies of this genre are typically about kids and teens. We know them as the coming-of-age movies. Mean Girls, Superbad, Good Will Hunting, The Sandlot, Stand By Me, Alice in Wonderland. With exceptions like Fight Club, Apocalypse Now, Hero, The Ides of March, and Tigerland having adult characters whom explore much darker and less-comical themes than the youthful equivalents.
I can't think of another spy-thriller-action film that foregrounds the Bildungsroman so dramatically as Safe House. Granted, I haven't watched every spy-thriller-aciton film ever. The Colin Farrell/Al Pacino spy-thriller-action film The Recruit is a type of Bildungsroman because Farrell is the titular recruit, going from rookie to capable over the course of the film. But Farrell's character is, as far as I can remember (it's been a while), cock-sure, aggressive, and always capable. It's not really the case of maturing as a person. All Farrell is doing is learning a skill. His biggest change over the course of the film is in how he perceives Al Pacino.
Safe House is about, really, Ryan Reynold's Matt Weston transitioning from an inexperienced CIA rookie to badass. We see how nervous Weston is when the mercenaries are assaulting the safe house. Tobin Frost (Washington) tries to calm Weston down (not in a friendly way, in a sort of he's-a-bastard way). This is the initialization of the Master-Apprentice subplot that lasts the length of the film. The wrinkle being the two are, for most of the film, in conflict.
Part of teaching is challenging. "Can you do this?" This is why we take tests. And Frost is constantly testing Weston. First it's physically, as the two battle in the car. Then it's mentally, at the soccer stadium. Weston wins the first battle, Frost the second (youth prevails; experience prevails). After losing Frost, Weston must, in order to find Frost again, think like Frost. After passing this test, the two are "equals" and work together.
As the Frost-Weston subplot is unfolding, there's the Weston-CIA subplot. Weston is the unnoticed child (relegated to safe house duty). Then he's the good-son (following protocol). Then he's the rogue, out-to-prove-himself son (tracking Frost instead of checking himself in at the consulate). Then he's with Frost, seeing the world from a perspective that challenges the CIA-perspective (the parent perspective).
The subplots dovetail at the final safe house. Weston must decide between his parent-figure (Gleeson) or his master-figure (Frost). The CIA-perspective, or his own perspective.
Weston at the end of the movie is not the Weston from the start of the movie.
Let me be clear: I don't think Safe House compares to Silence of the Lambs or Seven (both Bildungsroman; Seven less-so than Silence, but we can put it in the category, I think, thanks to Brad Pitt's character). But I think making it a bildungsroman added a depth to the movie that makes it more complex and entertaining than it would otherwise be.
Usually, this is the point where the writer connects the two ideas (Charles Dickens + Safe House) with a concluding paragraph. If you want to do that for me, by all means. As for me, meh. Let's pretend I made this subtle, brilliant statement comparing Reynolds to Great Expectation's Pip. OH, here, Reynolds is like Pip. Denzel is The Convict, the benefactor. There you go.
Did I like it:
Reynold's character reminded me a little of his role in Smokin' Aces.
Washington was his usual self.
All the shooting near the climax made me think of The Departed.
I don't think the movie is anything special. But I enjoyed it. I was engaged in the longer chase sequences.
Is it art? No. Is it something people can enjoy? Yeah.
Pros and Cons:
-It has Denzel and Reynolds. If you like them, you're getting exactly what you want.
-If you dislike Denzel and Reynolds, this movie will be a nightmare for you.
-A lot of critics are saying it's a by-the-numbers movie. I thought it was nuanced enough to still be interesting. Others won't. Which is, I think, why the RT score is at 53%.
-The audience rating, on RT, is 72% (15,000 votes). Chances are, you'll enjoy yourself.
-If you don't like seeing people being shot, you may be uncomfortable.
-The motivation of the characters isn't always clear (which can confuse some people).
-The resolution may be unsatisfying?
% Character / % Actor's personality and previous roles
Reynolds: 60/40 (I thought he did a good job showing his "inexperience")
Kinnaman: 100/0 (unfamiliar with him though)
We also recommend:
Washington: Training Day; He Got Game; Philadelphia; Deja Vu; Unstoppable
Reynolds: Van Wilder; Blade: Trinity; Just Friends; Smokin' Aces; Adventureland
Farmiga; The Departed; Up in the Air
Gleeson: In Bruges; 28 Days Later; Gangs of New York; Troy
Patrick: Terminator 2