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Film / Safe House

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Safe House is a 2012 action thriller directed by Daniel Espinoza.

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA rookie who is manning a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa, when Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) the CIA's most wanted rogue agent is captured and taken to the safe house. During Frost's interrogation, the safe house is overtaken by mercenaries who want Frost. Weston and Frost escape and must stay out of the gunmen's sight until they can get to another safe house.

This film provides example of:

  • The Ace: Frost. At one point, another agent describes him as being a legend, and jokes that Weston should pick up a few things because he won't find a better teacher. Crosses into Broken Ace, between both his defection, his cynicism, and he's awareness of what he is.
    • Weston it turns out is a natural; he successfully fights and defeats combatants with much more experience then him, and even successfully bests Frost in most of their physical fights. He graduates to Broken Ace by the end of the movie, however.
  • Almighty Janitor: Played with Weston, given that his task in the CIA, as a low-level agent, is "housekeeping".
  • Ambiguous Situation: It is unclear whether Whitford is implicated in the corruption or is simply trying to keep the public from learning about its extent at the end of the movie.
    • How many of the badguys are actually dirty or Just Following Orders. Given that they're working for the CIA, it's unclear if they were covering their own tracks and fully aware of the situation, or had just been told to retrieve Frost and kill anyone in their way, and were under the impression they're the good guys. This is exemplified by Keller, the housekeeper of the new warehouse Weston takes Frost to. He's presented as being in a similar position to Weston in his own warehouse at the beginning of the film, being eager to get involved in some real action to get out of 'housekeeping' and Weston introduced himself by holding him at gunpoint, leaving a poor first impression, and he attacks Weston after the latter lets his guard down enough, but it's left very unclear if he did so because he came to the incorrect conclusion Weston and Frost were the bad guys, he'd been forewarned of their arrival by Barlow, or he was similarly corrupt as them. Frost himself recounts how he'd been manipulated in the past similarly, told to kill innocents who he was informed were corrupt or criminal.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Weston, in the end, decides to defect from the CIA and go rogue, just like Frost once did, although it's hinted Frost had different motives behind his defection.
  • Batman Gambit: Frost walks into the American consulate and tells the guard his name, knowing he'll be red-flagged and taken into custody, allowing him to stay out of reach of his pursuers; presumably knowing they would come for him later, affording him a chance to escape from both.
  • Big Bad: David Barlow is ultimately revealed to be this. He is Vargas' employer, and is personally incriminated by the data in the file, leading him to arrange for its retrieval.
  • Break Her Heart to Save Her: Weston to his girlfriend, on the advice of Frost who insists that he won't be able to maintain a normal relationship with all the lies the job requires. Implied to happen at the end as well, but on much better terms, as she smiles when seeing him in a cafe as he walks away.
  • Break the Cutie: Weston is an eager-to-please rookie agent in a happy relationship with his girlfriend, who wants to move out of his housekeeping position to be with her. He clearly joined the CIA out of either patriotism or a desire to help people (it's never specified which), and when he sees other agents getting dirty he visibly becomes uncomfortable. Then he's forced to fight for his life against his own agency, an experience that clearly breaks him.
  • Broken Pedestal: CIA to Weston. It starts early when he witnesses Kiefer waterboarding Frost, and gets much worse when he discovers that Frost is on the run from their assassins who are covering up their corruption. Barlow is a personification of this, being known and respected by Weston.
  • Car Fu: Right after escaping the first safe house, Frost tries to wrestle control of the car (or knock out) Weston. Weston uses the fact that he's buckled up and Frost isn't to knock the latter out via crashing the car.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Nearly every character in the movie is this. Frost uses ambush tactics to make kills easy and quick and Weston grabs everything around him when he fights someone, to the point that he borders on One-Man Army status when he takes out a room full of cops... while handcuffed.
  • Cop Killer: Weston is forced to shoot an officer in Cape Town. The film lessons the blow on him a bit by having the officer both fire first and hit civilians. The officer does at least get attention quickly and it's never specified if he survived the gunshot or not.
  • Dead Star Walking: Liam Cunningham and Robert Patrick's characters are killed off early on.
  • Defector from Decadence: Weston, deciding to go rogue and try to expose the CIA Black Ops. Frost is an arguable case—he says it was because of it, but the movie never really supports it to 100%.
  • Dirty Business: The reason the CIA wants to kill Frost and recover the chip.
  • The Dragon: Vargas is the psychotic CIA agent that leads the assassination team after Frost, and answers directly to Barlow.
  • Escort Mission: Weston's mission is to get Frost to the alternate safe house for extraction by the back-up team. His repeated attempts to escape and the hit-squad pursuing them makes this increasingly difficult.
  • Fallen Hero: Some in the CIA consider Frost to be this.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Calling them "friends" is putting it strongly, but Weston and Frost start their interactions antagonistically, fighting multiple times, but after they escape Vargas' men together, Frost softens and begins cooperating with Weston, and in the end they save each other from Barlow and Vargas, before Frost gives him some dying words of encouragement.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: CIA Deputy Director Harlan Whitford, who is the leader of the evil agents.
  • Hauled Before a Senate Subcommittee: A newsreel at the end implies that Whitford is going to face exactly this after the end of the film; certainly there have been media calls for it.
  • Inspector Javert: Linklater is quick to assume that Weston switched sides and is helping Frost and takes the fact that Weston couldn't prevent Frost from running away and decides to keep pursuing him afterwards as proof he's gone rogue. Barlow reassures Linklater that this may not be the case so she decides to go to Africa with him to help with the case, and this allows Barlow to shoot her in a very desolate road in the middle of the savannah.
  • Important Haircut: After Tobin manages to escape from Weston, he cuts his unkempt hair and shaves his face, also signifying the change in narrative from the conflict between them into the conflict between them and the rogue CIA elements out to kill them.
  • Information Broker: Alec Wade, who sells Frost the flash drive.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Weston does this to a mook to try to figure out who's after them. It's the CIA.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Tobin Frost. As soon as Vargas and his team begin their assault on the safe house, he wastes no time attempting to screw with Miller. It doesn't work. He then proceeds to spend the entirety of his and Weston's escape doing the same thing to him. It works this time, partially because everything he is saying happens to be correct. He's stated in-universe as having "literally re-wrote the book" on agency interrogation protocols after successfully interviewing and flipping high-value subjects.
    • Barlow, or at least he tries to be. He's got Weston firmly loyal to him and ends up being confident enough to trust him to help with killing Frost.
  • Master Forger: Carlos Villar.
  • The Mole: Barlow, Weston's mentor and his ardent defender at CIA HQs.
  • Mole in Charge: Barlow, The Deputy Director of the CIA.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Weston realizes his "last minute reservation" is Tobin Frost!!
    • Another one from Kiefer and everyone in the safe house when the power shuts off.
    • Frost forewarns Weston to be wary whenever any of his higher-ups tell him 'we'll take it from here', citing it as a sign that said higher-ups are planning to cut him loose and pin the fallout for events on him from his own experiences. Hearing exactly this from Whitford after Frost successfully escapes him causes Weston to suffer a Heroic BSoD, knowing that he's screwed either way. In the end, he uses the same phrase as his parting shot against Whitford when the latter tries interrogating him if he'd found the intel Frost was trying to sell, implicitly implying that Whitford was also incriminated by it. Whitford's expression as Weston leaves shows that he knows what the undertones of Weston's statement really meant, not having expected a Naïve Newcomer like him to be so perceptive.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Frost saves Weston at the climax and passes him the intel that he's been hunted down for, knowing that Weston will do something better with it, and then passes away from his wounds.
  • Red Herring Mole: The seeds are planted early on that Linklater is the mole trying to kill Frost until Barlow suddenly shoots her dead revealing it was him all along.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Linklater and Barlow both try to throw each other under the bus, blaming their respective agents. Linklater is further convinced when Weston disobeys orders to try and bring in Frost himself. She's wrong to assume Weston is the corrupt agent, but she's right that it was Barlow's side that was dirty — but it was Barlow himself.
  • Rogue Agent: Frost. Weston later on. Even if the movie goes far into showing that they both did it for the same reason, it's implied that Frost was the dirtier of the two.
  • The Scapegoat: Just as Frost predicted, Weston realizes the CIA HQs (specifically Whitford and Linklater) are trying to put the blame on him for the safehouse breach and Frost's escape.
  • Shell-Shock Silence: Frost lets off a gunshot right next to Weston's ear, coupled with a throat punch; which effectively disables him.
  • The Spook: Tobin Frost was THE spook and is still regarded as a legend in the agency years after he supposedly turned traitor.
  • There's No Kill like Overkill: After he subdues and shoots one of the mooks who had just murdered his friend and his wife, Tobin pumps another few bullets into him.
    • The CIA themselves, who massacre their own agents all just to silence Frost. Frost recounts a story at one point of having to kill an innocent air traffic controller, all so they could crash a plane that held one guy they wanted dead.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Weston's reaction to many of the things he does during the movie, given he was a rookie agent who'd spent his first twelve months doing nothing. Over the course of the film, he shoots a police officer, tortures a dying man for information, then kills another agent with his bare hands. and each one he looks devastated after he does it.
  • Torture Technician: Kiefer, a CIA agent, waterboards Frost.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Barlow shooting Linklater, revealing himself as the mole.
    • Two more in-universe: The first, when Kiefer removes Frost's hood, revealing his identity to Weston. The second is when Barlow shows up at the second safe house... with Vargas.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Carlos Villar introduces Frost to his wife, daughter and son-in-law when Frost goes to him and arrives around dinner time. While his wife is seen being shot when Vargas and his team show up, it's unclear if his daughter and son-in-law were killed as well or had left for the evening before then.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Tobin Frost, again, is a master at this. After being attacked by one of Vargas' goons in the restroom, Frost rightly assumes that there are more waiting outside to kill him and take the file. He persuades a pimp to switch hat and coats with him and walk out the front, taking the bullet meant for him while he and Wade escape out the back. After Wade is shot and crashes their getaway car, Frost ends up fleeing on foot then ducks into the U.S. Consulate when he's cornered.