Kicking his heels as the caretaker of a Safe House (15A) in Cape Town, CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) presses his boss David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) for a more exciting post. Soon, however, Matt has all the excitement he can handle, when rogue CIA agent and suspected traitor Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) walks into the US embassy and hands himself up. Frost, a master of psychological manipulation, is on the run from a ruthless gang who want the multi-billion computer chip he has injected into his leg — but the gangsters aren’t the only players who want the chip. Swedish director Daniel Espinosa makes his English-language debut with a taut thriller, giving David Guggenheim’s script a propulsive quality that is sustained by a number of set-piece action sequences (including an impressively destructive car chase through the streets of Cape Town), although the performances of Reynolds and Washington are equally important in maintaining tension throughout. Essentially, Matt Weston is a greenhorn with little experience in the field, and is given the runaround by wily old fox Frost throughout, but Matt hangs on to his captive by the skin of his gritted teeth, determined to prove himself first to his bosses back in Langley, but also to his beloved Ana (Nora Arnezeder). Washington, meanwhile, oozes charm and menace in equal measure, playing Frost as an ice-cold killer who is nevertheless capable of extraordinary generosity. Aficionados of the paranoid thriller won’t be hugely surprised by the back-stabbings that regularly crop up in the twists and turns that drive Safe House to its finale, but most will be well satisfied by a deftly executed hardboiled tale.
It’s safe to assume that any movie that arrives with the name James Ellroy attached will err on the hardboiled side, but Rampart (16s) rather over-eggs the pudding. Woody Harrelson stars as Dave ‘Date Rape’ Brown, a LAPD cop who embodies everything that is bad about modern policing, and then some. A stone-cold killer who hides behind his shield, Brown is a vicious xenophobe who takes back-handers, frames his victims, and generally behaves like Attila the Hun on a kaleidoscopic variety of bad drugs. Caught on camera almost beating an innocent man to death, Brown finds himself hung out to dry by an LAPD anxious to divert media attention away from another scandal, and is soon spiralling out of control. A shaven-headed Harrelson is suitably intense in the lead role, and gets strong support from Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Robin Wright and Ned Beatty, but the story demands too much from a single character. The implausibility of his character undermines the tone of gritty realism established by director Oren Moverman.
At the other end of the spectrum, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (12A) is a charming tale of aging British ex-pats who decide to avail of cheaper Old Folks’ Home rates in India, only to wind up at a more ramshackle destination than the glossy brochures promised. The central theme of John Madden’s latest offering is that the journey is more important than the destination, and so we watch the likes of Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Penelope Wilton coming to terms with their new lives, some of them prospering more than others. An impeccably genteel ensemble piece, the film benefits hugely from its backdrop of a noisy, colourful Jaipur as it embraces issues such as racism, ageism and homophobia. That said, it would be interesting to know how the iffy finale, in which the quirkily chaotic hotel is put to rights by some straight-talking Brits, plays out in India.
Red Dog (PG) is another charming tale, this one based on the true story of its eponymous hero, a dog who united a remote mining community in north-western Australia and significantly altered the lives of its human friends. Kriv Stenders’ film consists of a series of flashbacks, all featuring the canine wonder-dog, who saved lives, defused feuds and on occasion even played Cupid, bringing together his only master, John Grant (Josh Lucas), and Nancy Grey (Rachael Taylor). Blending humour and tragedy, Red Dog represents wholesome family fun.