The last time I saw Denzel Washington, he was playing a nomadic crypto-Christian, surviving in the dystopian bummer The Book of Eli. It was a little off-putting. “Come on, Denzel” I wanted to yell at the screen. “Drop the religious shtick and unleash the kick-ass!” Thankfully, Vulture reports that Washington will soon be getting back to what he does best. The action star is currently in talks to star in Safe House, an original spy thriller from Universal, based on the script from Us Weekly editor David Guggenheim that triggered a bidding war between the studios last winter.
The film will center on a young CIA agent who is forced to go on the run in South Africa with a newly arrived prisoner (Washington) when their safe house, thought to be a secure location, comes under attack. The role of the American agent has not yet been cast, although Deadline reports that Chris Pine (with whom Washington just wrapped shooting the Tony Scott-directed drama Unstoppable) had at one time been considered for the part.
The timing of this news is not insignificant: Vulture speculates that this deal is in large part a play by the William Morris Endeavor agency to hold onto Washington, whose longtime superstar agent, Ed Limato, passed away this weekend from lung disease. WME co-CEOs Ari Emmanuel (brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and the basis for Entourage‘s Ari Gold personality) and Patrick Whitesell have reportedly been working overtime to find another action vehicle for Washington, who typically commands around $20 million dollars for a big studio movie. So it looks like Washington will be staying with WME… for now.
Safe House is being produced by Scott Stuber (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) with newcomer Daniel Espinosa (Snabba Cash) directing. Hopefully that means a departure of sorts from the typical Tony Scott fare (Man On Fire, Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3) that Washington has churned out in the last few years. Although I’m as happy as the next guy to see Denzel kicking ass in another good-not-great action movie, it would be nice to see him do something just a little bit different. Plot-wise, Safe House doesn’t leave me terribly optimistic, but perhaps direction from someone not named Tony Scott will mean a fresh start for the actor. Plus, if Washington’s performance as the film’s villain is anywhere near as powerful as in American Gangster or Training Day (for which he won an Oscar), Safe House will be a movie worth watching.