A solid thriller, "Safe House" isn't extraordinary. But it's a safe bet for those who enjoy "Bourne"-type espionage movies. And with its "R" rating, it cuts a bit more of an edge than its "PG-13"-rated cousins, taking the violence a step further.

Ryan Reynolds starts as the focus of the story. He's newbie CIA agent Matt Weston, who would like to move up in the pecking order. He has petitioned his colleague David (Brendan Gleeson) to help him seek a promotion so he can be with his girlfriend (Nora Arnezeder).

Another CIA operative, this one a legend, is at work. And this time he's on the wrong side of the law. Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) has cut some sort of a deal over some information that seems to be incredibly valuable. He's now considered a traitor to the CIA and they're on the hunt for him.

Frost, ultimately, is captured, and bought to the "safe house" where Weston is assigned. He is interrogated in what seems to be a stronghold, but Frost finally escapes after mercenaries attack the location. Elsewhere, a team of seasoned veteran agents (including characters played by Sam Shepard and Vera Farmiga) are in communication with Weston as he tracks Frost, and sometimes travels with him, to guide him to another safe house.

This is a lot more of a shoot-'em-up than it appears to be, along with a lot of nicely wrought fight sequences and chase scenes. Sometimes the action unfolds at an enjoyably frantic pace (which does not need the "shaky-cam" touch it often receives). But the most entertaining part of the movie is the cat-and-mouse game of wits that Frost plays with Weston.

Frost understands Weston, even though the two haven't met previously, and knows how to push the younger, inexperienced agent's buttons. The best dialogue occurs when the two are talking and Frost shows an almost-frightening understanding of Weston's present and probable future.

Washington always is interesting, regardless of the disposition of his characters. Here, he lends Frost even more depth than what the script provides, making the character so cagey that the audience never is entirely sure of his next move.

Fans of Washington and those with a fondness for espionage won't be disappointed that they left the house to take this in.

 

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