He’s parlaying his considerable skills to help America combat its enemies. He’s living in South Africa now, and speaks the native language as if he’s lived there all his life, a casual fluency not easily obtained. He’s trained in weaponry, close combat, espionage, code-breaking, psychological warfare, interrogation techniques, hostage situations. And he’s in terrific shape. But what he’s now finding out is something you can’t learn from training: that it’s really a strain, trying to live a lie.
Matt has this really hot girlfriend, Ana (the lovely young French actress Nora Arenezeder, who just happens to be perfectly fluent in English), who knows nothing of his “double life.” She thinks he works at some corporate office somewhere. She’s busy enough herself, as a medical intern, not to worry about his activities very much, but she does expect, when he says he’ll be home, that he will. And usually he is. After all, right now for “The Company,” he’s really just a glorified security camera monitor. But things can change quickly in the world of clandestine operations, and they certainly do here, for Matt Weston.
The empty “Safe House” he’s manning for the CIA suddenly becomes a place where a very dangerous former agent-turned-rogue, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), having just turned himself in to the American consulate, is going to be vigorously debriefed. Before Matt Weston even has a chance to see what’s happening, they’re broken into by a group of very well-armed hostiles, who are obviously also wanting a piece of this infamous Tobin Frost, the spy who came in from the cold reaches of sustained anonymity. But the firefight rapidly turns into a slaughterhouse, and Matt barely escapes with his “package,” the charming and mysterious Tobin Frost, who subsequently demonstrates his skill as an escape artist, a gunslinger and a harborer of secret contacts and stashed resources. Neither Weston nor Frost really wants to be tied to the other while they’re trying to escape whoever these roving terrorists are, but it soon becomes clear that Matt’s “handlers” are not to be trusted. So now what?
“Safe House” is about the gradual transformation of Matt Weston from faceless functionary to dangerous operative. Along the way, he will be challenged to figure out where, exactly, his loyalties lie, and how many lies he will have to tell, and to whom, in order to even achieve his own preservation, much less accomplish any missions. “Safe House” is one of those action-packed thrillers with cerebral strategy sessions interspersed with old-fashioned chase scenes and sudden personal violence. It’s slick and fast-paced and fun to watch, though in the end, a bit cynical. As if survival is not only of the fittest, but of the most calculating.
Early on, while Matt is still trying to figure out which ones are the bad guys, Tobin tells him that when his superiors say to him, “You’ve done a good job, we’ll take it from here,” that’s when his goose is cooked. Soon after that, you guessed it: they tell him, “Matt, you’ve done a good job. We’ll take it from here.” And so they do.
Ronald P. Salfen is interim pastor of St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.