Proof that women can make the same sloppy action films that men can. Yay equality!
When a film hinges on a twist like Salt does, getting to the point where it happens makes or breaks any film. There aren’t many films where a “twist” is anything more than a screenwriter painting themselves into a corner and needing a way to get out of it. It’s one of the few things films in the horror and action genres share in common; most times when a twist happens either as a finale or as a major plot point it’s usually pretty transparent and not surprising at all. Thus a film has to disguise it well enough for it to be shocking and it’s something Salt doesn’t do.
Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a covert operative for the CIA manning a desk after having been caught by the North Koreans some time beforehand. When a Russian defector comes in off the street with crucial information about an infiltrator, and implicates Salt as a Russian spy on a mission to kill the visiting Russian president, she becomes a fugitive wanted by the CIA. Her close friend Ted (Liev Schreiber) thinks she’s innocent and wants to help her prove her innocence while Counterintelligence officer Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is willing to kill her if necessary to save the foreign dignitary. Her husband Mike (August Diehl) has been kidnapped, as well, so Salt has two objectives: find him and prove she isn’t secretly working for the Russians.
While its novel that the film has Russians as villains in this day and age, or more accurately former Cold War era Soviets trying to reclaim their former superpower status, everything else about the film comes straight from the direct to video action film handbook. With a modicum of character development and back-story shunted in the form of flashbacks, Salt is a film of atmosphere and pace as opposed to story and characters. Moving fast between action sequences, Phillip Noyce takes the traditional spy thriller concept and places it in a fast-paced action film. It’s certainly an entertaining film from this perspective as there’s no wasted motion. This is a remarkably sleek film with everything having a purpose and contributing to the film’s overall concept.
Salt starts off really well and is intriguing for its first act. Evelyn Salt is a softer Jason Bourne, the easiest comparison to make but also the correct one, and the film takes a lot of the “spy vs. spy agency” touches that could’ve elevated this and toned them down for a more action-oriented film. This is a film that has a lot of interesting things going on in terms of the spy world and minimizes them to turn the film into a big dumb action film. The film also hinges on two twists that just don’t add anything into the film.
The first happens at the end of the second act and is seemingly trying to establish an atmosphere of “anything can happen” in the film’s finale. The problem is that from the first twenty minutes on it’s remarkably easy to spot. It’s a twist that’s supposed to be disguised and shocking when it happens but ends up being neither. The film also tries to pull off another twist towards the end that changes everything but is another twist for the sake of; it’s right of any direct to video action thriller. It’s a shame because Angelina Jolie is better than that and seemingly too good of an actress to be in a film like Salt.
This isn’t her first action film as the hero and Jolie brings something different to the role that Tom Cruise (originally slated for the role) didn’t. In fact it’s the fact that Jolie’s a woman gives the film a different touch. With Cruise the film is a generic spy film and nothing more than doing a spy role outside his signature Mission: Impossible franchise. With Jolie it turns more interesting based on her gender alone; spy films generally are about the men, and not the women, of covert intelligence. But the film doesn’t want to take this interesting facet about the film and instead plays the role as if it didn’t matter what gender the main character was. There’s an entirely different dimension that Jolie brings to the film that isn’t developed.
At barely over 90 minutes, there’s a bigger film about a grand plot that Machiavelli would be proud of waiting to come out. Salt isn’t that film, but it has enough interesting things going on early to at least be somewhat entertaining.
Director: Phillip Noyce Notable Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor Writer(s): Kurt Wimmer and Brian Helgeland