3 Stars — Challenging
Americans are often conflicted over their loyalties to their country, wanting to wave the flag bravely with our troops, while at the same time questioning the motives of some in our government. Right from the start, our Founding Fathers built into the Constitution a series of checks and balances that were meant to protect us from ourselves. This was based on a deep-seated distrust of the kings of Europe who imposed questionable practices and values on their subjects while claiming it was for their own good.
In 21st-century America, we are caught in the same dilemma. We want to cheer wildly at a stadium for the national anthem, and at the same time we cringe at some of the candidates running for president. At a deeper level, there is a nagging fear that people of ill intent or selfish interests will dominate an otherwise clean political system, and our real and projected ideals for our country will be compromised and lost.
Safe House takes us into the murky world of the CIA, a government agency that is considered by most people as a necessary evil — a counterpoint against a troubled world outside our country’s borders. While the FBI may be portrayed in films as the housecleaning police force fighting against the likes of Al Capone, who attacked mom-and-pop enterprises in the heartland, the CIA is most often portrayed as a clandestine world of spy’s and counterspy’s where evil itself sometimes infiltrates the ranks of its members.
In the world of the CIA, “safe houses” are run throughout the world by low-level employees to hold high-level criminals being transported to trial. Such is the case of a safe house in South Africa maintained by Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds). For months, Weston is in a state of boredom until he is informed that a top rogue spy, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), has been captured and is being brought to him for safekeeping.
Within minutes of Frost’s arrival surrounded by a handful of CIA operatives, the “safe house” is compromised and unknown assailants kill the operatives protecting the prisoner. From here the rest of Safe House unfolds as Weston escapes and takes Frost on the run with him. The mystery is, who is trying to kill Frost, and why?
Safe House is similar to the Bourne Identity in that it is hard to tell who the bad guys are and who are the good guys. Frost had been one of the brightest stars in the CIA system who “went rouge” a decade ago and has been sought ever since. In this story he turns himself in to the local Embassy in South Africa to protect his life, even though his greatest threat may be coming from inside the U.S. government.
At its core, Safe House is not about whether our government is good or bad, but rather it is about the temptation of greed that confronts people in positions of trust. It isn’t surprising that some police officers give into greed and take money to protect local mobsters, nor is it surprising that some spies would give into greed when the level of money offered for state secrets is greater than what they make in salary in a lifetime.
The question that Safe House raises is, what would we do when confronted by significant temptation? One answer in this story is that evil will follow you throughout the rest of your life. The other answer is that you will pay giving into temptation with the price of your soul.
Safe House is an intriguing but predictable spy story that will entertain you, but it also is a morality play in that good triumph’s over evil. It may not give you a high level of confidence in our government, but it will challenge you to personally make the right choice when confronted with temptation.
» The temptations we each experience is specific to our own spiritual weakness. How are you most tempted, and what has been the effect when you fell for that temptation?
» The fear that someone is abusing their authority is built into our system of law. Do you believe this balance of power is working? Why do you answer as you do?
» As a story, do you believe the violence presented was necessary to tell the tale?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.