This blog only reflects the above named three films, however prior to 2012 Daniel also helmed three further films, Babylonsjukan in 2004, Outside Love in 2007 and Easy Money in 2010.
"Do you want to be the guy that lost Tobin Frost?"
As a lifelong fan of the works of Denzel Washington, Brendan Gleeson and the ever dependable screen presence of Liam Cunningham I was excited to see these stand out performers team up for the 2012 release of Espinosa's Safe House. I liked and enjoyed this on my first viewing five short years ago and having re watched this for the purpose of this blog again recently, I found the film still retains the verve, vitality and visceral action sequences I remember from my first viewing. Perhaps sandwiched between the behemoth ongoing franchise that is Jason Bourne, Safe House does have an incredibly striking resemblance to the loving creation of Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, dealing as it does with a rogue Agent being relentlessly tracked remotely by the CIA in Langley, Virginia as well as on the ground in various world destinations. Where Bourne travels from place to place, "Tobin Frost" (Denzel Washington) is holed up in Cape Town, South Africa but no sooner has he blown his cover he is tracked (again in Bourne fashion) with the frenetic street action of Cape Town juxtaposed with the hi-tech capabilities of the CIA. Like Bourne, he has many internal secrets to divulge but unlike the Matt Damon character (and here's where my Bourne comparisons will end) he is captured and bundled to a Safe House for interrogation under the anxious and watchful gaze of "Matt Weston" (Ryan Reynolds) a rookie and somewhat bored Safe House "Housekeeper". Ostensibly, this happens in the film's opening frames and by the time the film has a second to breath some fifteen minutes in, the frenetic pace, action sequences, gun fights and car chases have been quite some spectacle indeed. The pace of the film only sags a little in it's middle third however as a rule the film rarely does let up in it's intensity as Frost and Weston are thrown together in a frantic search for a house that is actually safe!
The aforementioned Liam Cunningham heads a stellar supporting cast list as "Alec Wade", another rogue Agent and friend of Frost, and being a fan of his deadpan style of acting I wanted to see more of his character throughout the film. And here is my only real gripe of the film, that of a lack of character development. Each character is well written but rather two dimensional and lacking a real narrative arc, whether it's the outstanding as ever Vera Farmiga as remote CIA Operative "Catherine Linklater", Brendan Gleeson as another CIA Chief and Operative "David Barlow" or Sam Shepard as CIA Director "Harlan Whitford". It is to him that we find the film's most prescient and telling quote as we approach the film's denouement: "People don't want the truth anymore Matt. It's too messy. Keeps them up nights".
Written for the screen by David Guggenheim (Stolen, Designated Survivor) Espinosa brilliantly directs a thrill ride of a film that continually builds tension amid a series of violent and visceral gun fights interspersed with the spy thriller tropes of never knowing who to trust who may be playing who and for what ends. The film is often unnerving and claustrophobic at times, especially so within the safe house(s) and brilliantly realised by Director Espinosa during the numerous gun fights within the confines and corridors of the house. Bloody and brutal at times with accomplished central performances from Washington, Reynolds and Gleeson, I rather enjoyed Safe House five years on from my first watching of it and if you're looking for an albeit minor plot but thrilling and explosive espionage saga, this may be the one for you.
"This is some Re animator shit!"
Currently on a worldwide speaking tour promoting his newest film T2 Trainspotting, Danny Boyle had an interesting take on the creation of a film set in space. Addressing questions on his own 2007 space film Sunshine, Boyle simply stated what an incredibly difficult proposition making a film set in space is and he has immense admiration for any Director who attempts it. This is Daniel Espinosa's "space movie" and for all of it's flaws and overt nods and ideas taken from previous films set in space his creation is one of real enthusiasm, love and film making craft that at only 103 minutes is a romp of a science fiction spectacle and whilst it isn't as accomplished as some of it's contemporaries in recent years doesn't take itself overly seriously, has a balance between light hearted fun and skin crawling horror as well as shining a light on the nature of being a human, of the creation of life itself and of "incontrovertible life beyond earth".
Released nationwide on Friday 24th March I saw Life on opening night after weeks of eager anticipation and 12 hours later I returned to see it all over again, which is a recommendation of sorts. For there is much to admire in this short (by recent cinema standards) film from Espinosa. Initial kudos falls to the Director and his cinematographer Seamus McGarvey who with their swirling and always moving camera capture everything inside and outside of the International Space Station (ISS) brilliantly, with a 360 degree camera movement circling, upside down and forever flowing through the ISS which instantly brought back memories of seeing the Alfonso Cuaron/Emmanuel Lubezki 2013 Oscar winning behemoth Gravity for the first time. The "swimming" nature of the astronauts experiencing weightlessness on board the ISS is brilliantly realised too but what also struck me immediately was the adoption of so many extreme close ups on the six astronauts for this is a very real human story, of life, death and the creation of life itself amid the carnage and scares of the Alien style horror film still to be played out. Espinosa and McGarvey's pin sharp space realisation is beautiful on the big screen.
With a total cast of just 15 characters (plus a space Alien named "Calvin" by students in a remote conversation with the astronauts on the ISS), it is the six astronauts doubling as medical officers, biologists and observers who dominate the screen and Jake Gyllenhaal as Senior Medical Officer "David Jordan" who stars and propels the heart of the film in it's largest and most drawn out role. Gyllenhaal excels with a back story far from the confines of the ISS. With over 470 days on board he is the longest serving member of the crew yet prior to this it's established he was a medical officer serving in Syria and has seen death at first hand numerous times and pointedly laments he prefers life in space and "can't stand what we do to each other down there", meaning life on earth. In a truly international crew aboard the ISS Olga Dihovichnaya plays the Commander of the ISS "Katerina Golovkina" and Hiroyuki Sanada portrays the pilot "Sho Murakami" particularly well, tellingly experiencing the birth of life as he's thousands of miles above the earth from where his daughter is born. Ryan Reynolds brings levity and obscure cultural and film references to the movie in his garrulous role as "Rory Adams" with the last two more substantial roles brilliantly portrayed by Ariyon Bakare as English Biologist "Hugh Derry" and Rebecca Ferguson as Quarantine Officer "Miranda North". Spoilers aside, each character has a back story of sorts, however a minor gripe of the film is these are often superficial or never fully explored.
After eight months of waiting for a probe to return to the ISS with a sample of soil from Mars, this crash lands but successfully docks with the ISS. Through stimuli the sample begins to grow exponentially and with the crew all eagerly looking on (captured brilliantly in extreme close up to build the film's early tension) mistakes are made, Hugh Derry becomes "drunk" on his interactions with the alien life form and soon the idyllic space life that David Jordan and the rest of the crew so thoroughly enjoy becomes a living nightmare as it soon becomes apparent that the stimulated alien is a carbon based life form, requiring oxygen and matter on which to survive.
Life is part Gravity, part Alien, part Event Horizon and there could be an argument made that it's part Planet of the Apes and classic vampire films of the past, for you have to invite a vampire in before he can feed off you, right? Life is skin crawling at times and shock horror at others and whilst the ending is telegraphed many minutes before this 103 minute science fiction thriller reaches its denouement it's a fun ride that doesn't quite match up to it's constituent parts.