The Films of Daniel Espinosa
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Safe House (February 9/12)
It's ultimately difficult to recall a mainstream Hollywood movie saddled with as obnoxious and rage-inducing visuals as Safe House, as filmmaker Daniel Espinosa, along with cinematographer Oliver Wood, has infused the proceedings with a grainy, blown-out, and aggressively kinetic feel that immediately sets the viewer on edge - with the film's subsequent difficulties at holding one's interest, even fleetingly, stemming entirely from its consistently unwatchable appearance. It's worth noting that the movie, which follows Ryan Reynolds' green CIA agent as he attempts to hold onto a notorious traitor (Denzel Washington's Tobin Frost), establishes its atmosphere of loathsomeness right from the get-go, as Espinosa, working from a script by David Guggenheim, kicks the proceedings off with a long, drawn-out action sequence that's absolutely and utterly devoid of context - with the baffling nature of this interlude exacerbated by Espinosa's frustratingly incompetent directorial choices. From there, Safe House only grows more and more tedious as it progresses - with the midsection essentially coming off as one long chase scene. This, of course, proves especially disastrous given the film's decidedly subpar visual sensibilities, as there's simply never a point at which the viewer is able to wholeheartedly (or partially) embrace either the characters or the narrative (ie just as things are threatening to get mildly interesting, Espinosa offers up yet another in a long line of completely incoherent high-octane moments (eg a car chase that comes off as a jumble of images and colors). It's ultimately rather astonishing that Safe House is being released to theaters at all, as the movie is, for the most part, an interminable, amateurish waste of time that's almost entirely devoid of positive attributes - with Espinosa's pervasively wrong-headed choices rendering the promising setup and strong performances hopelessly moot.
Life (April 15/17)
An unexpectedly (and impressively) grim little thriller, Life follows a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station as they must fight for their lives after an alien creature becomes increasingly hostile. It's worth noting that Life improves steadily as it progresses, with the slick opening stretch unable to capture the viewer's interest or attention - as filmmaker Daniel Espinosa delivers an admittedly authentic-seeming atmosphere that's hindered by a lack of fully-formed characters or a clear sense of purpose. There's little doubt, then, that the picture begins its slow-but-steady ascent into engrossing territory with an almost shockingly brutal crew death, after which point Life transforms into a blisteringly-paced horror flick rife with stirring, brutal sequences - with the surviving characters' consistently ineffective attempts at battling the creature lending the proceedings an almost shockingly hopeless vibe. The eclectic cast, which includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, and Rebecca Ferguson, ably steps into the shoes of their respective (and increasingly horrified) characters, while Espinosa generally does an effective job of ramping up the inherent claustrophobia of the situation as time progresses. And although the movie hits a bit of a lull in the buildup to its climax, Life closes with a jaw-droppingly bleak finale that packs an impressive punch - which secures the movie's place as an erratic yet often engaging piece of work.