N.Y. Times critic Manohla Dargis has noted that Safe House cinematographer Oliver Wood “also shot all three Bourne movies. The world, the filmmakers say again and again, is a terrible place, and yet, as you look at this film, with its beautifully bleached-out palette and somewhat coarse visual texture — the images look as if they had been lightly sandpapered — it’s hard not to be struck by its loveliness.”
And then waaaay over in Bhavani Junction, Movieline‘s Stephanie Zacharek writes that Safe House is “so visually ugly that, to borrow a line from Moms Mabley, it hurt my feelings. The plot mechanics don’t matter much. What does matter is the inexplicable horror of how lousy this film looks. Movies aren’t strictly a visual medium — they’re too complicated for that — but there’s something wrong when the only thing you can think of while watching a picture is, ‘Damn! My eyes!'”
Howe can two brilliant, highly respected critics have such a radically different take on lovely vs. ugly cinematography? Simple — Dargis accepts the aesthetic behind Wood’s shooting style (grainy, hand-held photography conveying a chaotic, unsoothing, raggedy-assed vibe) and Zacharek, though obviously familiar with this kind of photographic approach, rejects it. She wants what she wants, and Safe House didn’t deliver.