Washington and Reynolds line up alongside Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga to tell the tall tale of a captured criminal being transported back to the US from South Africa and the criminal gang trying to break him out of the supposed protection offered to him.
We spoke with the film’s writer David Guggenheim about writing for action films and what he considers the main theme of the film to be.
The film is out on Blu-ray and DVD today.
There’s a well plotted duplicity in the character of Tobin Frost [Denel Washington] – was it enjoyable to play with the villain stereotype?
Thanks so much! Absolutely. I think it’s fun to play with any stereotype and flip conventions on their heads — but especially when it comes to bad guys because there fun to write anyway.
South Africa is fertile ground for the story you’re telling – did it offer different ways of telling the story?
I think it definitely helped to set the tone. Like Cape Town, I wanted the script to have layers and be gritty and dangerous in places, but also exotic and real.
Do you consider redemption or retribution to be the film’s overarching theme?
Redemption is one of my favorite themes to play with and it just seemed the most organic arc for Frost. It’s not like he’s gonna be full blown CIA good guy by the end, but he does see something in Matt and realizes this is a moment where I can maybe make up for some of the sins in my past and present.
Action dialogue in general can tend to err on the side of cliché – but in Safe House you avoided it, how important was it for you to give the characters unique voices?
Thanks so much. It’s crucial. Especially when you’re balancing as many characters as we were. But it definitely helped that every actor was so unique and brought so much to their own characters.
I’m always curious about an action sequence from the perspective of a writer – is it as simple as writing ‘there is a chase…’ or do you think the action sequences can enhance our understanding of character?
I think the best action scenes in general are the ones where you’re understanding the character more. If not, it’s just noise. For me the best action movies — Die Hard, Midnight Run, Untouchables — an action scene can be just as (and sometimes more so) revealing about the characters than any other. So yeah, I’m always trying to write the action scene from a character POV. It’s just a great opportunity to reveal more.
Do you find there’s a particular writing style Hollywood studios aspire to, particularly in action films?
I think with any genre Hollywood is just looking for fresh, well-written, character pieces. With action, you need to have that, but also a sense of pacing and tone. Reading an action script should give off the same sensation as watching one.
You’ve written Stolen for Simon West and Nicolas Cage, what can you tell us about this?
Yeah, about eight years ago I wrote an action script called Medallion that was optioned just before I set up Safe House. It’s since been changed to Stolen, but the concept has stayed the same: Nicolas Cage plays a bank robber who goes to jail after a heist gone bad. When he gets out, his ex partner takes his estranged daughter and locks her in the trunk of a taxi. He then offers to trade him the taxi’s medallion number for the money he thinks Cage has waiting for him on the outside.