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Safe House: Entertaining But Predictable Action Movie
Weston (Reynolds), a young CIA agent, wiles away his time looking after an empty safe house in Capetown, South Africa. Desperate for any way to prove himself, he’s left flat-footed when the CIA’s most wanted man, Tobin Frost (Washington), is apprehended and interrogated at the safe house. Formerly the CIA’s best agent, Frost is tortured before a gang of mercenaries show up and proceeds to kill everyone in sight. Weston manages to escape with Frost and finds himself trying to stay a step ahead of both the gang, who are intent on killing him and capturing Frost, as well as Frost himself, who will do whatever it takes to slip away from them both. Frost’s influence causes Weston to question his choice of career, his mentors, the integrity of the CIA and the extent he’s prepared to go to in order to advance his career.
Safe House is worth it just to see Weston’s naiveté being crushed. It would be heartbreaking if it wasn’t so pathetic. His degree of innocence is acceptable in a child, maybe in an idealistic college student, but not for somebody who actually works for the CIA. This flaw isn’t of Reynolds’ doing yet it overshadows his performance nonetheless.
Frost represents an example of a path that Weston’s life could take if he makes certain choices. Like Weston, he was an idealistic agent. He, however, went rogue when he discovered the hypocrites and traitors in the ranks of the CIA. Reeling from the shock, he decided to switch careers and start dealing in top secret data, getting in deep with the underworld. When he comes into the possession of a particularly volatile piece of information, he finds himself being pursued incessantly which leads him to give himself up to the American consulate who at the very least, won’t kill him on sight.
Reynolds and Washington play off of each other decently enough. Reynolds really sells the whole newbie-out-to-prove-himself aspect while also showing the fact that even though he’s in way over his head, he can’t shove aside the issues of morality that keep cropping up. Washington, on the other hand, plays Frost as an exceptionally unpredictable force. His ambiguity keeps you guessing whether he’s a hero or a villain.
Safe House manages to keep things reasonably tense and features some pretty cool and exciting car chases, explosion and fights, but when push comes to shove; the film’s average at best. It may have been better had its setting not been so generic. The film is almost entirely set in South Africa yet you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for America.
The antagonists were another squandered opportunity. They’re little more than highly menacing, gun toting, villainous caricatures. Spending a couple of minutes with them and getting to know them would have given the movie some much needed depth and would have raised the stakes somewhat.
Safe House has everything going for it. It has good actors, a decent script and solid talent behind the camera. Unfortunately, it doesn’t succeed in standing out from the pack and ends up getting lost in the shuffle of action movies that are cranked out every month.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.