Denzel Washington is the vodka and Ryan Reynolds is the orange juice in this spy story with top-notch action, middle-notch story, and bottom-notch ending, with a “surprise” plot twist that is obvious from the first 10 minutes.
Apparently, the CIA has big, high-tech, empty “safe houses” all over the world, just in case we need to stash an “asset” there for debriefing with or without torture, but I gather more often with. Reynolds plays a junior CIA agent named Matt, stationed in Cape Town, South Africa. His lissome French oncologist girlfriend (the glorious Nora Arnezeder of “Paris 36”) has no idea that he is really a spy. He’s not so sure himself, after a full year of sitting alone in the safe house, throwing a ball like Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape” and waiting for something to happen. He begs his mentor back at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) to reassign him, but Barlow tells him to be patient.
And then the most notorious rogue spy to go AWOL from the CIA, Tobin Frost (Washington) , a man who ” has no allegiance and is wanted on four continents” walks into the American consulate. We know he has injected some sort of memory chip into his thigh and that some guys with guns are willing to kill a lot of people to get to him. Matt gets the call that a “guest” is en route and when Tobin arrives with an entourage of serious-looking guys, he escorts them to the interrogation room. They tell him to turn off the surveillance cameras and they start waterboarding Tobin, who calmly first offers to tell them whatever they want to know and then advises them that they are using the wrong kind of towels for torture. Then the other group of bad guys break in, shooting everyone they see, and Matt grabs Tobin, steals a car, and they’re on the run.
It’s “Bourne”-lite, a lot of well-staged action but without the personal or political identity issue resonance of the Bourne stories. Washington is superb as a spy whose specialty was manipulation and whose moral code is compromised, but clear. “I only kill professionals,” he tells Matt. “You’re not going to get in my head,” Mitch says. “I’m already there,” Tobin responds, and, predictable as it is, we know he is right. Part of what makes him effective is that he tells the truth. But Matt, whose specialty is analysis, strategy, and spycraft, gets into Tobin’s head, too, partly from observation and partly from the encounters along the way that show him
The hand-t0-hand combat and shoot-outs are intense, prolonged, and graphic. But when it comes to acting and holding our attention on screen, Washington wins by a knock-out.
Parents should know that this film includes brief strong language (s-word, f-word in song lyric), a brief sexual reference, and pervasive brutal and often graphic violence, guns, car chases and crashes, hand-to-hand combat, torture. Many characters are injured and killed.
Family discussion: How were Tobin and Matt alike and how were they different? Do you agree with Matt’s decision at the end? What techniques did Tobin use to persuade Matt to do what he wanted?
If you like this, try: The “Bourne” movies, “Three Days of the Condor” and “16 Blocks”