It’s amazing what a physiological effect a film can have on me sometimes. Despite the high expectations I had of Safe after the thoroughly entertaining trailer, mixed with my ardent love of Jason Statham, I was exhausted when I went to the screening. So tired in fact, that when I spoke to a friend of mine just before the film started I was barely able to string two words together, even using the word ‘magical’ to describe my hopes for Safe.
Now, I’ve used many superlatives to describe the films of our man Statham over the years, but ‘magical’ isn’t a logical fit. Regardless, by the time Safe had finished, I was running high on adrenaline and in a state of absolute joy, filled with nothing but enthusiasm for a film which easily ranks as one of Statham’s best to date.
Knowing very little about the content and rating of Safe before I went in, I was somewhat alarmed by the first act of the film cutting away from potential moments of brutality (such as a shot of Statham cage fighting at the beginning), yet the slow burn of the film is what makes it really stand out. The pace in Safe is perfect, setting up Statham’s character (Luke Wright) as a man you just can’t wait to see deal out his bloody revenge – and the wait is well rewarded.
Once the film’s second act kicks in, so does Statham, as the film ramps up into the kind of non-stop action-fest that dreams are made of. Obviously, my love for The Stath only heightened my enjoyment, and while the premise and genre alone probably won’t win over many new fans, it’s arguably his strongest performance so far.
With each new role it seems he’s given a little more chance to flex his acting chops, and in Safe, his character goes from the familiar emotion of rage (this time powered by the sound of drills), to the new territory of upset and suicidal. At one point, Statham even sheds a tear (a feat which took Schwarzenegger 30 years to achieve in his career, with End Of Days), though I’m fairly sure that tear could’ve killed somebody.
Safe also manages the simple masterstroke of giving Statham’s character a theme, evoking memories of classic 70s thrillers, while adding levity to the aftermath of some encounters with its comical reoccurrence, courtesy of Life Aquatic and Devo genius, Mark Mothersbaugh.
Despite writing action movies from decades past, such as The Rookie and mega-violent, Dolph Lundgren starring The Punisher, it marks the first time Boaz Yakin has ever directed one, which makes his action debut even more impressive. Car chases, shoot outs and limb snappage are all handled with aplomb, while Yakin even works in a recurring visual motif of mirrors being shot out – a small incident, but one that really stands out as a personal touch that so easily could have been left out.
On a relatively low budget, set pieces are executed on a grand scale. When one character announces “Let’s go to war”, events really do feel escalated into full on gang warfare, as the fantastically old school meshing of triads versus Russian mafia versus bent cops plays out magnificently with Statham’s Yojimbo-esque tactics in the middle. Location after location is demolished in a hail of gunfire, with some impressively ingenious moves thrown in for good measure, such as a reverse table shield and the rather fine ordering of a drink and fork from a bar.
Any concerns over the introduction of a child into a Jason Statham action thriller are also quickly dispersed as young Catherine Chan puts in an assured performance, which doesn’t allow for any saccharin moments to soften the brutality. If anything, her introduction is a perfect comedy set up for some of Statham’s best lines (one in particular about trees, which I won’t spoil here, really does prove the film’s intent to avoid any sense of cloying sentimentality).
Adding to the overall greatness is a Geek-friendly cast that really makes you question the balance of casting in Hollywood, as a group of utterly underappreciated actors all deliver the kind of performances that, as a fan of their work, you really hoped they would.
James Hong tops the list, channelling the best of his work to date – particularly that of my most beloved Mr David Lo Pan. Seeing and hearing Hong playing an evil, deceitful gang boss again actually made me cheer, and it’s incredible that after a staggering 366 credits, he’s still as amazing as ever. Words can’t describe how excited I am to see him in next year’s Ryan Reynolds versus zombies flick, R.I.P.D.
Likewise, Chris Sarandon makes a small appearance, relishing the chance to show he’s still as cruelly charismatic as he was in the mighty The Princess Bride and Fright Night, while Robert John Burke, who still remains an indelible part of my teenage years from his early work with Hal Hartley and in Dust Devil, gets a larger part, and one which allows him to shine.
Strangely, both Reggie Lee and Anson Mount left me with the impression that I’d seen and loved them in other films, but when I looked them up it transpired I’d seen an awful lot of their work, just nothing that stood out as much as their performances on show in Safe, so here’s hoping we see a lot more of them in high profile features (The Dark Knight Rises certainly won’t harm Lee’s profile).
Safe is really well shot, superbly played out by its solid cast, and full of the kind of wit and one-liners that always help to make an action film stand out in a traditionally formulaic genre. It rattles along at a pace, with a great score, some innovative, violent action and even a bit of drill rage. With that in mind, I really can’t recommend Safe highly enough. Great stuff.