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Well executed painting by numbers

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I wonder what thoughts crossed the mind of the young director Daniel Espinosa as it became clear that he was going to direct Safe House.

An 85 million dollar Hollywood production with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds in the cast is quite different to a five million dollar movie with a few Swedish stars that barely are known outside of the country.

I imagine it as if a low ranked downhill skier all of a sudden would be brought up from a starting number of 85 to the first group with a much better piste and a real shot at reaching the top. The difference is that the stake is so much higher. It’s a one-time opportunity. Failure is not an option.

Our guy
I have to admit that my heart beat a little bit harder than it would have otherwise thanks to the Swedish connection. From the little I knew about it, it appeared to be a standard action movie, which usually isn’t my first choice when I go to the theatre. But just this fact that this was Daniel Espinosa’s Big Moment made the viewing a little bit different and more interesting than it otherwise would have been.

Of course I don’t know this guy any more than I know any American director, but I wanted him so badly to succeed. He was “our guy”, out there, putting Sweden on the map like Björn Borg did once upon a time on the tennis court or Zlatan Ibrahimovic does now on the football field.

So how well did he do? Well, without being any expert, a quick glance at the box office chart tells me that he should be on the safe side. After only a few weeks, the movie has made almost a hundred million dollars, which is more than it cost. And I suppose that’s what matters most in the end for those who hire directors? At least he hasn’t caused any losses. They’re already making a profit on his work. So why wouldn’t they hire him again?

Painting by numbers
Let’s leave the box office though for a while and look just at the movie, what did I think as a reluctant and rather ignorant action movie watcher? Well, all in all, not bad. Not bad at all.

Sure, the plot is very generic and I doubt I’ll be able to retell it to you if you ask me about it next year. I won’t even bother to tell you much about it here. There are CIA agents. They’re stationed in South Africa, which makes a nice change to what we’re used to. Someone wants to kill them. And of course there is corruption.

I won’t hide that Safe House is an example of painting by numbers. But you know what? Painting by numbers isn’t necessarily such a bad thing, not when it’s as well executed as in this case.

The pace is high, the action is solid, there’s a flow and energy in the chasing scenes that I enjoyed a lot. They’ve put a lot of effort into the sound effects. When they’re shooting, you can feel it in your body. The movie is shot with a saturated, orange, crude camera look that reminds me of old photography albums, which I thought looked kind of cool, even though my fellow Swedish movie bloggers told me afterwards that this look pretty much was a rip-off on films by other action directors. That however didn’t bother me the slightest, inexperienced as I am as an action watcher.

My issues
If there are things in the movie I’d like to complain about, it’s rather in the hands of the screenwriter than the director (unless the director has gone in and messed around with the script, I’ve heard that these things happen sometimes.)

I’ll avoid giving away too much of the plot here, but I can say as much as that I strongly question the motivations of one of the two main characters, the explanation we’re given why he’s done certain things. From the person he is now, it just doesn’t make sense.

The female characters are of course barely more than love interests, but I suppose anything else would be to expect too much of a standard Hollywood action flick so I can’t be bothered to be annoyed about it.

What really presented a problem though was the ending. That bumped down the movie from a very strong 3, bordering to 4 to a more average 3.

Do you remember Source Code from last year? Oh, how we tore our hair! It could have ended on an absolutely perfect note. Instead it kept going on for yet another five minutes, which didn’t add anything. It felt as if it was a last-minute decision following the reactions of a test audience.

It was a bit of the same thing with Safe House. Letting it end earlier and on a bit more ambiguous note would have made it so much better.

To wrap it up: Daniel Espinosa got the chance to run in the best group of skiers. He didn’t fall. He didn’t run down any flags. He proved that he could handle a task of this size. I just hope he’ll get a script that is a tad better and a little bit more interesting next time.

All in all I’m satisfied. I had a blast going to the movie in the company of four other Swedish movie bloggers. I watch movies mostly on my own and it was fantastic to have a bunch of similar minded people to chat away with right after the show. There are links to their posts below. Everyone apart from Deny Everything is in Swedish, but you can always try to run them through Google Translate.

Safe House (Daniel Espinosa, US 2012) My rating: 3/5

Deny Everything

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Written by Jessica

February 29, 2012 at 7:00 am