Reviews

'Safe': Bringing the Pain

Luke is a standard Jason Statham character, developed by physical action and fast cuts rather than emotional expressions in long takes.


Safe

Director: Boaz Yakin
Cast: Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, James Hong, Robert John Burke, Chris Sarandon, Anson Mount
Rated: R
Studio: Lionsgate
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-04-27 (General release)
UK date: 2012-05-04 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Luke Wright (Jason Statham) brings pain. When first you see him, the camera starts on his back, frighteningly muscled, then pulls back to show he's in a cage, poised to pummel his poor sap of an opponent. The crowd noise expands and then, the scene cuts. A woman is pummeling Luke. The camera pulls back to show they're in a hospital room, where her husband -- that poor sap of an opponent -- now lies broken. Luke's face suggests remorse. Cut again, to Luke, mad. The camera pulls back to show he's in a casino, accosting his manager. It's his fault that Luke took out the poor sap with a single blow. And so Luke brings some more same pain.

It's not that Luke wants to bring it. But he's righteous. And in Safe, that means he'll be deploying his special skill set again and again, schooling the bajillion bad guys who come his way. It also means he suffers his own pain -- the murdered family, the Russian mafia vendetta, the former NYPD colleagues who hate him for exposing their corruption -- all by way of leading him to homelessness, drinking, and (of course!) thoughts of suicide. Just when he's about to step off the platform at DeKalb Avenue, he's saved, by the specter of 11-year-old Mei (Catherine Chan), hiding behind pillars and pursued by... the Russian mafia guys!

Of course Luke has no idea how his past, and now his immediate future, are intertwined with Mei's. You do know, though, because you've seen her story cut into his throughout the movie's first 10 minutes. Back and forth, back and forth, the film edits on beat: she's a prodigy who can store huge numbers in her head, kidnapped from China to Chinatown by triad boss Han Jiao (the wonderful James Hong). She's grabbed, the film cuts to the cage fight. He contemplates his trouble with the Russians, she's framed behind an abacus, the bars suggesting... well, you know. Han Jiao threatens her sick mother's life, the scene cuts to Luke driving fast, en route to finding his wife, dead. He's on a downtown sidewalk, she's on a sidewalk in Chinatown. Etc.

You also know, because it's a Jason Statham movie, that when they do meet, he'll be protecting her from a passel of bad guys, including Han Jiao and his odious number two, Chang (Reggie Lee), the triads' mortal enemies, the Russians -- blustery dad Emile (Sándor Técsy), idiot son Vassily (Joseph Sikora) -- and oh yes, the NYPD, a sometimes hard-ass and sometimes hapless crew headed by Captain Wolf (Robert John Burke, his rugged face used to brilliant closeup effects here). No matter that Luke's been out of the game for a few months: he knows everyone, knows how Han Jiao is using Mei (to store information, without "electronic trails"), and also knows pretty much right away what the number she's memorized means, namely, a combination to a safe (and yes! the film's title is multivalent).

It's helpful that Mei is less sweet than resentful, that she holds her own with Luke. After she tells him her story so far, she gazes at him steadily, more accusatory than grateful: "Now you know everything," she says. "Happiness for you?" In turn, he treats her like a person more than the usual movie kid, at least when they pause for conversations. They spend most of their time -- together and apart, for she will be kidnapped again and he will save her, again (as she will also save him, again) -- engaged in high-octane crises. She's pretty good and running, but he is excellent at running -- as well as crashing, driving, flipping, kicking, shooting, and bone-breaking.

Luke is a standard Statham character, in other words, developing by physical action and fast cuts rather than emotional expressions in long takes (when Luke does take a moment to tear up, he looks like he's pretending). And, though it's easy to dismiss such characterization as superficial or stereotypical, Statham does it exceedingly well. As Safe slams around from scene to scene, propelling conflicts and showing connections by setting one shot against another, Luke maintains a certain charismatic gravity, less serious than alternately exasperated, shrewd, and bemused (Stratham does the all-purpose scrunch-face as well as Bruce Willis did in the olden days). As Mei begins to see in Luke a comrade, someone who can keep up with her, he sees in her a reason for being, or, as he phrases it, "life."

Yeah, yeah. But that's not the point of Safe. The point is pain, precisely performed, exactly edited. As Luke brings it, incessantly and intently, it doesn't matter why. It only matters how. And how often.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image