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Salt (A Movie Review)


SALT (2010)

Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl, Daniel Pearce, Hunt Block, Andre Braugher, Olek Krupa, Cassidy Hinkle, Corey Stoll, Vladislav Koulikov, Olya Zueva, Kevin O’Donnell, Gaius Charles, Zach Shaffer and Albert Jones.

Screenplay by Kurt Wimmer.

Directed by Phillip Noyce.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures. 100 minutes. Rated PG-13.

The Cold War is still raging on if you take the word of Salt, and old-fashioned twisty spy caper where the Russians no-goodniks are still trying to take over the world. 

Despite the oddly inscrutable title – Salt is Angelina Jolie’s character’s last name; the Russians aren’t trying to kill us all off by driving up our sodium intake – this is a very old school spy drama. In fact, with its whip-fast changes in direction – even the main character often seems to not be certain what side she is on – it almost seems like a Manchurian Candidate for the Call of Duty generation. 

Of course, there was already a new Manchurian Candidate – a remake of that Cold War classic came just a few years ago… and it starred Liev Schreiber, who co-stars as one of the main characters in Salt as well. 

Still the movie mostly works, despite having a plot that is probably a bit too complex for its own good and also falling into the modern action film trap of making its main character nearly impervious to pain or injury or even gravity. 

How are we supposed to worry about Salt’s life or death plight if she can drive a car off a bridge – landing on top of a group of cabs – and not even get a scratch or a limp? This is just one of many rather impossible moves that our heroine pulls off here. 

Salt starts off with a very clever dilemma. Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is a long-time CIA operative who has gotten married and decided she may be ready for a desk job. One day an aging Russian spy shows up at their undercover headquarters claiming to be dying of cancer and wanting to give information about a potential assassination attempt. 

The spy tells them that years before the Russians had a special training facility in which they trained small children to become future spies and assassins – they would hide in plain sight as ordinary citizens all over the world until they were called to duty decades later. One of these clandestine spies, he insisted, was going to kill the Russian President. That spy’s name was Evelyn Salt. 

At first the government agents don’t believe the story and Salt insists she is being framed. However, when her husband disappears, she escapes custody and starts acting erratically – going on the lam and taking death-defying risks (well to anyone else, as mentioned before she seems to be impervious to death) and causing massive accidents. 

Then she shows up in New York where the Russian President Matveyev is speaking at a funeral (despite the fact the US President and Vice President are given completely fictional names, the film Russian President’s name is significantly close to his real-life counterpart, Medvedev), leading everyone (the audience included) to wonder if she is, indeed, the spy she was outed as earlier. 

Obviously, I will not tell you the answer to that question, though I will say that your opinion on that question will change several times during the course of Salt. 

However, it continues the Hollywood desire to turn Angelina Jolie into an action/adventure star – see also Lara Croft, Wanted, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Gone in 60 Seconds, the upcoming The Tourist – despite the fact that she is probably a little too good of an actress for these roles. There’s nothing here that we really haven’t seen Jolie do before, however she kills with aplomb and makes her somewhat absurd stunts seem feasible.

Schreiber also does his normal fine work here as Salt’s former partner – he tends to be better than the movies he is in and that streak continues – although, as noted before, his character is rather reminiscent of his role in The Manchurian Candidate. 

The one actor who is totally left out to dry here is Chiwetel Ejiofor – who like Schreiber is normally much better than the films he is in… do I need say more than 2012? – but here his trigger-happy government agent is so cut and dry and so one dimensional that even this intriguing actor can’t pump any life into the characterization. 

However, Salt is really Jolie’s show, and she keeps it from sinking under the weight of its contrivances. If you are into the complex and contradictory spy action, you’ll be suitably puzzled and periodically thrilled by it. It’s world politics played out as a video game, but it’s mostly a fun one.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: December 4, 2010.


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