Safe House Blu-ray delivers stunning video and great audio in this fan-pleasing Blu-ray release
Matt Weston is a rookie CIA operative frustrated with his lackluster post running a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. All that changes when his first "guest" is Tobin Frost, a renegade intelligence officer who had been on the run for almost a decade. When mercenaries attack the house, Weston and Frost make a narrow escape and together must find out who they can trust.
For more about Safe House and the Safe House Blu-ray release, see Safe House Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on May 30, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
No one could blame you for assuming Safe House was a Tony Scott film. A lesser Tony Scott film, but a Tony Scott film all the same. I was convinced myself, from the moment Denzel Washington stepped out of the shadows to the moment Ryan Reynolds had to man up and choose between loyalty and honor; right up until the end credits actually, when director Daniel Espinosa's name flashed across the screen. (Had I paid closer attention during the opening titles I wouldn't have spent so much time laying the groundwork for a slightly different review in my head.) Surely Scott must be an executive producer, I thought. Nope, not a producer. Surely Espinosa worked on a number of Scott's films then. No luck there either. Washington is the only connection between the two. And therein lies the problem. Almost everything about Safe House -- from its kinetic visuals, to its tone and story, to its performances and directorial style -- feels familiar. Almost everything it assembles and delivers has been assembled and delivered a dozen times before. Normally I'd shrug it off; label the film a confidently shot genre clone and call it a day. But with Espinosa insisting his first big Hollywood film rejects Hollywood convention at every turn, I can't help but cry foul. Is Safe House a decent genre pic? Absolutely. Especially with Washington and Reynolds at the helm. Is it fresh? Original? Unpredictable? Not in the slightest.
"Remember rule number one: you are responsible for your house guest. I'm your house guest."
To escape a group of mercenaries, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a former CIA agent charged with high treason, walks into a U.S. Embassy in South Africa and turns himself in. From there, he's transferred to a secret safe house in Cape Town for questioning and safekeeping. But the mercenaries, led by a man named Vargas (Fares Fares), somehow track Frost to his current location and mount an assault on the facility and the CIA agents stationed there. One of those agents is Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a low-ranking "housekeeper" whose daily routine consists of waiting for a phone call that rarely comes. Forcing Frost into the trunk of a car, Weston flees the scene and is immediately pursued by the mercs, who seem to be one step ahead of the CIA at all times; a sure sign that one of his agency superiors is as much a traitor as Frost. With little time to think and even less time to plan, Weston has to keep Frost on a tight leash, outwit the mercs, make it to a second safe house, and figure out which CIA officer -- no-nonsense operative Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga), mentor David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), gruff director Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepard), or some other agent -- is up to no good.
Sound like a round of genre Mad Libs? That isn't too far off. Change a few nouns, adjectives, agencies and names and it's easy to spot the building blocks of Espinosa and first-time feature film screenwriter David Guggenheim's spy thriller. Safe House mines the Bourne series (particularly its CIA subplots, betrayals and plot twists), Washington's Training Day (with a dash of Reynolds' Smokin' Aces), and everything from Body of Lies to Taken, Quantum of Solace, Traitor, Salt and other less notable influences and inspirations, all filtered through a Scott Brothers lens. The action is hard-hitting and intense... yet tiresome at the same time. Of course, if you live and breathe gritty spy-vs-spy actioners, more of the same might be just what you're looking for. Or exactly what you're patiently waiting for the next great genre director to reinvent. Nothing grabbed me. Nothing caught me off guard. Nothing knocked me off balance. The identity of the traitor in the CIA's midst didn't come as a shock. Frost's true nature didn't come as a surprise. Change Weston's name and backstory and you'll recognize a character that's been featured in countless films. In fact, strip any of the good guys and bad guys down to their essentials and style is all Safe House really has going for it. Even the safe house setting is quickly abandoned in favor of the streets of Cape Town, a stadium, a third world ghetto... you know, the usual international shoot-em-up hotspots.
Espinosa's style, original or no, works well, though, and his real assets, Washington and Reynolds, elevate the run-of-the-mill action with strong performances. Weston and Frost may be a product of genre Mad Libs, but Espinosa's leading men are a godsend. Washington is cold and calculating, bottling Frost's fire and exploding at a moment's notice, yet hinting at hidden humanity and promising redemption. While any doubt surrounding his status as Safe House's Big Bad doesn't last very long, Frost's ever-evolving relationship with Weston is an exercise in masterful restraint and careful consideration, lending a bit of surprise where there wouldn't be otherwise. Reynolds, in turn, answers Washington's call to arms with one of the better performances of his career. (After Green Lantern shook my faith in the man who would be Hal Jordan, Buried and Safe House restored my confidence.) His role is largely reactionary -- Washington's Frost is the only one with some measure of control -- but it's just as challenging. In many ways it's more challenging. Reynolds has to shoulder the more common hero-in-the-making (the reluctant man of integrity thrust into a world of danger); it's Washington who gets to have all the fun, steal all the scenes, and slather on all the icing. Together, the two couldn't be more perfectly cast. It's just a shame the script doesn't give them more room to maneuver. The ease with which a group of gunmen storm and take a secure safe house calls the point of a safe house into instant question. Weston's knack for tracking Frost's movements makes you wonder why the mercs need CIA help in the first place. Washington's rooftop chase goes on forever and grows more ridiculous with each missed bullet. And it doesn't take a trained agent to figure out how Weston should have handled himself at the second safe house. (Hint: completely differently.) Ultimately, Safe House is a decent genre pic with a pair of remarkable performances. Nothing more, nothing less.
Safe House takes aim with a gritty, grainy 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer that's flawless in its devotion to Espinosa's intentions and Oliver Wood's photography. Its hot whites, stark contrast and color-searing palette are premeditated, and any perceived issue -- be it poor delineation, crush or uneven grain -- is inherited from the source. Translation: the presentation rarely misses. Primaries pop (skewed as they often are), skintones are relatively lifelike, black levels are inky, and detail is sharp and striking. Fine textures are perfectly resolved, closeups reveal every scar, groove and pore on the actors' faces, edges are crisp and free of unsightly halos, and even the shakiest shaky cam action sequences impress. It only helps that artifacting, banding, aliasing and other oddities are MIA and any significant distractions are AWOL. Safe House may not win over every genre fan, but Universal's commitment to Espinosa and Wood's vision certainly should.
There's really only one problem with Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track: like any number of lossless action mixes, dialogue can be whisper quiet, meaning shootouts, explosions, car chases and other surly outbursts are inordinately loud. Overwhelming even. That said, voices are clean and clear, regardless of how unruly the soundscape becomes, and there's an argument to be made for the sudden impact that comes with each action beat. LFE output is brash and bombastic, granting chest-thumping kick to gunfire, throaty power to car engines, and deafening power to door breaches and other attacks. Rear speaker activity is forceful and assertive too, filling the soundfield with ricocheting bullets, the drone of dense traffic, the screams of a panicked stadium crowd, and all the commotion you'd expect from a heavily populated South African city. Directionality is precise and convincing, pans whip past with startling confidence, and dynamics leave little to complain about. All things considered, Safe House sounds great. I wouldn't try to watch it while the kids are asleep upstairs, but if you enjoy an a hyperactive action mix, this one delivers the goods.
U-Control Features (HD): Though a tad sporadic at times, Universal's first U-Control feature -- a standard but engaging Picture-in-Picture track -- features numerous interviews with key members of the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage, stunt and fight choreography videos, and much more. Another feature -- the vaguely titled "Scene Explorer" -- only appears on select chapters but provides users access to storyboards, production photographs and B-roll footage, all of which can be viewed alongside the film itself via a PiP window (sans audio) or individually, expanded to fill the screen (with audio).
Universal Second Screen Experience: Dig a bit deeper with Universal's Second Screen experience. Simply download the pocket BLU app to your tablet, Mac or PC, sync the app with the film, and enjoy.
Making Safe House (HD, 11 minutes): From its "Black List" placement to its development, production, character arcs and style, this behind-the-scenes featurette first focuses on Espinosa but soon turns its attention to Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington's casting and performances.
Hand-to-Hand Action (HD, 8 minutes): Fight coordinator Olivier Schneider and his team of talented martial artists, trainers and choreographers whip Washington and Reynolds into shape, teach them to put emotion into their fights, and strip down the battles so they appear less polished than they really are.
Shooting the Safe House Attack (HD, 5 minutes): A quick dissection of the film's first big action scene.
Building the Rooftop Chase (HD, 4 minutes): Leaping from roof to roof with Washington, Reynolds and Fares.
Behind the Action (HD, 8 minutes): Shooting Safe House's diverse action sequences.
Inside the CIA (HD, 6 minutes): Recreating Langley, the CIA and the spies of the 21st century.
Safe Harbor: Cape Town (HD, 9 minutes): Filming on location in Cape Town.
Safe House doesn't distinguish itself or serve up any tasty spy-vs-spy surprises. But it's a decent genre pic, confidently shot and eagerly assembled, and it boasts performances from Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds that are worth the price of admission alone. Thankfully, though, Universal's Blu-ray release isn't quite so flawed. With an adrenaline-pumping video presentation, a pulse-pounding DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and a solid selection of extras, fans will get plenty of bang for their high definition buck.
In anticipation of Safe House's June 5th Blu-ray debut, Blu-ray.com news reporter Josh Katz interviewed the film's screenwriter, David Guggenheim. During the following interview, Guggenheim discusses how he developed his Safe House screenplay, the difficulties ...
In June, Universal Studios Home Entertainment will bring Safe House to Blu-ray. Director Daniel Espinosa's action-thriller stars Ryan Reynolds (Adventureland) as a rookie CIA agent forced to protect rogue operative Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington, Unstoppable) ...