In a blast of brilliant narrative exposition, the first 20 minutes of Safe covers everything you need to know with skilful aplomb. It’s akin to the opening scenes of Serenity, actually, whereby the film jumps around in a non-linear fashion whilst imparting a heap of information. We learn that young girl Mei (Catherine Chan) has been kidnapped by Chinese Triad members who wish to take advantage of her eidetic memory and near-Rainman skills when it comes to numbers. The local Russian mafia aren’t happy about this, so they set out to nab the girl. Then there’s the crooked cops have a tenuous hold over each of these warring parties, who also have an interest in her abilities. In steps Luke Wright (Jason Statham), a down on his luck cage fighter who’s apparently lost the will to live.
Of course, we know that these two are bound to cross paths, but Safe manages these first 20 minutes so perfectly that it feels effortless. In a short amount of time, we have learnt that the New York depicted here is a truly lawless place, with there being no difference between criminals and cops. More importantly, we’re shown that Luke has absolutely nothing to live for. His life is forfeit so he can go to absolutely any length to achieve his goal. Which then leads to some of the most inventive, brutal and violent action scenes I’ve seen in recent years. There are a lot of casualties in this film, and once the action starts, it barely lets up. As Statham kicks, punches and shoots his way through most of the criminal population of New York, we’re never given a chance to catch our breaths.
It’s a story we’ve all seen before, sure, but it’s told with such intelligence and conviction that it first of all sets it apart from most Statham movies, and secondly from contemporary action movies in general. There are a couple of quips here and there, but Statham delivers them in such a dry manner that it never feels like an excuse for cheap laughs.
The cinematography is equal parts brilliant and frustrating. There are some incredible moments – action scenes contained in single shots, making use of the reflections in mirrors – but there is also an unfortunate habit of falling back on hyper-fast shaky cam, something Mark will find unforgivable. From my point of view, Safe took such techniques right to the edge – anymore and I would have been put off – but never went too far. The visceral nature of the film is rather magnificent.
Safe is a grim flick indeed, but those merely expecting the usual level of quality associated with Statham (Transporter 2 and 3, Death Race, Crank: High Voltage, Rogue Assassin) may find themselves pleasantly surprised. This is an action flick a cut above the rest, and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be consigned to the bargain DVD bin.Rating: