Those who crave the usual Jason Statham experience—as seen in Death Race, the Transporter flicks, etc.—will still love Safe; it’s brutally violent, and features lots of bloody mayhem. But those who don’t mind bloody mayhem as long as it’s accompanied by something meatier are in for a treat. With small, sharply observed touches, writer-director Boaz Yakin has created something extraordinary: a cynical dark fantasy that fashions a new mythos of post-9/11 New York City, a bleak world of organized crime finding a new footing with law-enforcement attention focused on terrorism—and a place in which the tiny slice of the NYPD left to fend with the Russian mob and the Chinese Triads is just one more gang vying for supremacy.
Statham’s Luke Wright is an all-around badass who was once an elite agent recruited into the NYPD after 9/11, now on the outs with that agency. He also has pissed off the Russians, and is enduring a punishment that’s ingeniously cruel in its design to crush his humanity.
I’ve barely seen Statham present anything close to human onscreen, yet here he’s totally compelling in portraying a man suffering under his forced disconnect from everyone around him. It’s downright poignant—and it sets the main action of the story in motion, when Luke comes to the aid of 11-year-old human computer Mei (Catherine Chan), a pawn in the triangular war between the Russians, the Chinese and the NYPD. Mei is pretty badass herself, a canny operator and an able partner for Luke as they unravel Chinese gang boss Han Jiao’s (James Hong) plan for the Very Important Number Mei is holding in her head.
There’s a subtle grand sweep to Safe. It feels like it’s just barely scratching the surface of a new world we haven’t quite seen before—one in which there’s no room for cheap or easy sentiment, bringing a complex, thorny humanity back to a genre that had forgotten it.
Jason Statham, Catherine Chan