Dir. Daniel Espinosa, USA/South Africa, 2012, 115 mins
Review by Carol Allen
This action thriller has the sort of story idea and strong cast, which give it the potential to be another Bourne or even perhaps an American Tinker Tailor. Frustratingly though it never lives up to that promise.
Set in South Africa,Washington plays Tobin Frost, a former CIA agent, who several years earlier went rogue, selling his knowledge and expertise for cash. When he finds himself once again in the hands of the CIA, who are eager to debrief him, young “housekeeper” agent Matt (Reynolds), who’s been stuck on watch and wait duties and is eager for some real action, is given the task of minding him in the safe house of the title. Mercenaries on the trail of Frost raid the house however and the veteran and the rookie find themselves on the run together for their lives.
There are a lot of interesting possibilities here, particularly in the development of the “unlikely allies” relationship between the two men. But the writers and director seem far more interested in keeping the film exploding with action. Whenever an opportunity presents itself for us to find out more about them, particularly Frost, who promises to be an intriguing and complex character, we’re into the crash, bang, wallop of yet another car chase, gun battle or bomb explosion – all of which come with monotonous regularity, never giving the actors a chance to reveal anything interesting about their roles. We don’t even find out why Frost went rogue in the first place, which is surely central to the interest of the story – though it is possible that some of the dialogue, which is largely drowned out by a deafening music and fx track, might have given us a clue and I missed it in the aural din.
The film not only wastes the talents of Washington and Reynolds but also those of Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepherd and Brendan Gleeson, as the two men’s CIA controllers. With one exception in a scene towards the end, they have hardly anything interesting to do and the only thing we learn about them is never trust what anyone says in the CIA. But we know that anyway from a lot of other movies. Oh. and that the infamous “waterboarding” torture technique now appears to be standard practice when interviewing a suspect. In fact the only disturbing aspect of the film is its extremely casual attitude to violence and killing, which become an automatic and run of the mill reaction to any situation.
It is all a great pity, as this could have been a really interesting character led action thriller. But when the action overwhelms the characters rather than the characters leading the action, it all becomes a bit of a repetitive bore. In fairness though the film took a healthy $28.4 million at the USbox office in its first four days, so it may well find a similar audience with a taste for non stop mayhem here in the UK.