Directed by Phillip Noyce
Screenplay by Kurt Wimmer
Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt
Liev Schreiber as Ted Winter
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peabody
Daniel Olbrychski as Orlov
August Diehl as Mike Krause
Daniel Pearce as Young Orlov
Hunt Block as U.S. President Lewis
Andre Braugher as Secretary of Defense
Straight-up action flick offers Angelina Jolie kicking ass,
a few smart scenes, and little else.
We’ve been inundated recently with publicity about Angelina Jolie’s spy vs. spy thriller Salt. Interviews with Jolie, producers, and other major players in the film industry have saturated the internet and everyone has something to say about the fact that Jolie happily and successfully took on a role meant for a man. Salt was originally set to star none other than Mr. Charm himself, Tom Cruise. When Cruise dropped out, humanitarian-“home wrecker”-action heroine Angelina Jolie stepped in. The film certainly benefits from a female protagonist; if not for Jolie, who wears hardcore action star-status like a bandage dress, the movie would’ve been an entirely forgettable summer blockbuster.
Salt opens with a torture scene: Jolie, stripped to panties and a bra in one of the only scenes to emphasize her gender, endures (mostly off-screen) punishment in a North Korean prison because the government suspects she’s a spy. They’re right, of course; Salt poses as a businesswoman but works for the CIA. When Russian defector Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) accuses Salt of being a Russian spy, the games begin in earnest. Orlov claims Russia has been raising generations of spies, trained from birth to eventually infiltrate the U.S. government. Their purpose: to catalyze Day X, a code name for the inevitable nuclear war between Russia and the United States. Salt, Orlov proclaims, is one of these home grown spies. Salt’s colleague Ted (Live Schreiber) defends her then betrays her; fellow CIA agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) immediately suspects her traitorousness but has to make a tough decision. The movie is a series of contrived twists, ridiculous chase scenes, impossible explosions, and muddled surprises. In other words, it’s a typical summer blockbuster.
By far the most interesting part of Salt is the fact that Salt is female. The film industry is all abuzz with Jolie’s bankability and versatility in typically masculine roles. Though she’s by no means the first female action star (consider Linda Hamilton in the Terminator movies, Sigourney Weaver in the Alien films, or Sarah Michelle Gellar in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Jolie has made it more than clear she’s eager to tackle the same roles as some of Hollywood’s most bankable actors. The movie would absolutely not have been the same had Cruise remained attached—it would’ve felt like a sad rip-off of the Mission Impossible films.
In Salt, the protagonist builds a gun out of household chemicals, a table leg, and a fire extinguisher. She jumps from semi to semi on a busy highway overpass like it was nothing special. She dons menswear and makeup to gain access to the White House (there’s a political metaphor there, but you can take it any way you like). She also removes her heels when she has to escape the CIA—which is completely necessary, as any woman who’s ever worn heels will tell you. She bandages a wound with a maxi pad. She covers a security camera with her black panties (this simple action would be awfully time-consuming for a man). She loves her arachnologist husband. When vacating her apartment just ahead of the CIA’s invasion, she packs her puppy into a backpack, climbs onto a four-inch ledge (a scene that’ll make anyone suffering from acrophobia shudder), and leaves the pup with a neighbor girl.
All of these things are silly. No one walks away unscathed from a chase that involves semi-jumping, a fifty mile-per-hour car crash, and a gunshot wound, but Salt does. No one gets away with this kind of double agency, but Salt does. The requisite “walking away from a massive explosion in slow motion while chanting choir music throbs beneath the basso thumping” scene is here, as are the outlandish government conspiracy theories.
Director Phillip Noyce, who also directed Jolie in the so-so thriller The Bone Collector in 1999, crafted a movie without many memorable features. Writer Kurt Wimmer, whose screenwriting career includes the flops Sphere (1998) and Ultraviolet (2006), has a heavy, awkward hand with dialogue. The twisty, tangled plot moves forward at a good pace until the third act, when things inexplicably slow down. James Newton Howard provides music that’s not bad, but not great either—and again, completely forgettable. Jolie is admirable in a role that would normally fall to someone with an XY chromosome, but it’s not her best role. Schreiber isn’t cut out for this kind of film. He’s proven his acting chops in quirky dramedies like Taking Woodstock, but he seems to have a tough time reciting the script when it’s truly stupid. Ejiofor is generally a fantastic performer, but he doesn’t have much to work with in Salt. That’s the gist of it: despite a good cast, a great lead, and a fun plot, the movie’s pretty unremarkable.
Salt is the first true summer blockbuster of 2010, and though it’s not great, it’s not terrible either. Salt is a fun but mostly unmemorable movie. If you’re looking for a way to zone out and suspend belief in physics and reality, it’s the perfect movie for a hot summer evening. If you’re interested in action movies starring women, you should definitely check it out. Otherwise, wait until the DVD release.