Dominic Corry 's Opinion

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

Dominic Corry: Is Denzel Washington the last action hero?

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Denzel Washington appears in a scene from Safe House. Photo / Supplied
Denzel Washington appears in a scene from Safe House. Photo / Supplied

I saw the new Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds movie Safe House this week. It's a pretty decent mid-level action thriller refreshingly devoid of computer-generated action.

The most fun to be had in the movie is watching Denzel be a total badass.

The man is 56 years old, but he still moves like Jason Bourne - swiftly taking out mercernaries in all directions while remaining utterly convincing throughout.

I realised something about Denzel while watching this film: He's the last non-ironic action hero.

Now when I say "action hero", I mean an actor who is a grown-up (ie, not Matt Damon or any of the current superhero crowd) and who can convince as a total badass (ie, not Tom Cruise. Who I like. But he doesn't really convince as a total badass).

When you factor in irony, age and badass-credulity, the herd thins considerably.

Bruce Willis slipped into smirking self-parody long ago. It's impossible to take Mel Gibson seriously anymore. Harrison Ford turned grumpy and forgot how to make good movies.

And everyone involved in The Expendables and its sequel is playing ironically off their action persona. Oh Arnie, how far you've fallen.

Despite the numerous critical highs of his double Oscar-winning career, Denzel Washington has never considered himself too good for straight-down-the-line action movies.

His filmography could very much be viewed as a list of highlights of the genre: Ricochet (1991, an underseen last gasp of '80s action from legendary producer Joel Silver); Crimson Tide (1995); Training Day (2001); Out of Time (2003); Man on Fire (2004, a modern classic that demands viewing); The Book of Eli (2010, in which Denzel does a convincing Mad Max).

Heck even last year's Unstoppable felt nice and old school.

There's a thread of a persona going through all these roles, but it never threatens to become self-parody, or even self-aware.

The notion of what comprises an action hero has changed considerably over the last two decades, but Denzel has remained a hearty constant, doing what he does without compromise. Let's just all agree to forget about The Taking of Pelham 123.

Who else is there? The dolt in me appreciates what Jason Statham does, but he's still too young to gain my full cinematic respect as a classic action hero. Clive Owen has potential, but he's yet to fully flower as a badass.

Today's action hero seems so green. I guess it comes down to the cinematic era you grew up in, but there's a definite lack of authority in most of today's action hero leading men.

It's one thing to lament the lack of a modern Lee Marvin or Charles Bronson, but times must be tough when you're feeling nostalgiac for early '90s-era Gary Busey.

Who's you favourite modern action hero? Does Denzel still convince as a badass? How great is Man on Fire? What did YOU think of Safe House?

Check out the trailer for Safe House:


Dominic Corry

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

One of New Zealand's most vocal and enthusiastic film critics for over ten years, Dominic's cinematic opinions can also be heard on radio and seen on television. His list of favourite movies is always evolving, but is generally likely to feature The Lady Vanishes (1938); Vertigo (1958); The Parallax View (1972); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978); Aliens (1986); Midnight Run (1989); Metropolitan (1990) and Primer (2002). He also reviews snack food.

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