Movie Review 9/8/10
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by: Phillip Noyce
Released by: Columbia Pictures
Two groups of people think the Cold War is not over: conspiracy theorists and Hollywood. The Cold War provided a wealth of tales for filmmakers to spin, and the latest in this line is Salt, which uses the popular Cold War myth of Russian sleeper agents brainwashed as children and implanted in the United States, waiting to strike.
The film opens with CIA operative Evelyn Salt (Jolie) being tortured in a North Korean prison. Her boyfriend Mike Krause (August Diehl) cooperates with the CIA to negotiate her release through a prisoner exchange.
Two years later, Salt is happily married to Krause and is planning their anniversary celebration. In walks Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), a supposed Russian defector and former power player in the Soviet government. He offers Salt the information that a sleeper agent of the former Soviet state will assassinate the current Russian president, Boris Matveyev (Olek Krupa), at the funeral of the American vice-president.
The problem? Orlov states that the agent is Salt herself.
Ted Winter (Schreiber), Salt’s friend and colleague at the CIA is sceptical about Salt really being a Russian spy. However, Peabody (Ejiofor), another fellow agent, is certain that Salt’s allegiance lies with the Soviet Union and that she will kick-start a war between the US and Russia with the murder of the Russian President. The two form an uneasy alliance hunting down the woman they thought was their ally.
This sends a desperate Salt on the run, jumping off the tops of vehicles, hanging off the ledges of apartment buildings, knocking people out with spider venom, crawling through the sewers of New York and so on, leading to a climax in the Presidential bunker beneath the White House.
In many ways, Salt is a textbook spy action-thriller, but unlike most textbooks, is one I would not mind reading again. Director Noyce is a master of the genre, having helmed Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, both starring Harrison Ford.
However, much unlike those films, Salt borders on the fantastical and owes its existence more to other spy franchises than Tom Clancy novels. For example, the North Korean sequence is straight out of Die Another Day, and at one point Orlov uses a shoe with a hidden switchblade as a weapon, ala Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love. Salt on the run from her superiors and coming to terms with her true identity, whatever it may be, is reminiscent of the Jason Bourne films, and Salt’s disguises-including dyeing her hair from blonde to black-brings to mind the television series Alias, starring Jennifer Garner.
What sets the film apart from scores of similar movies is its star, Angelina Jolie. The film was originally written for a male lead, with Tom Cruise attached to it at one point, but this reviewer is glad that Jolie got the part in the end. Cruise was right when he said the role was too similar to that from his Mission: Impossible movies.
The audience is meant to doubt where Salt’s loyalties lie at times, but they never stop rooting for her. It is also great to see Jolie back in her element kicking butt, like she did as action girls in fan-favourites Wanted and the Tomb Raider films. Especially impressive is that most of the stunts were performed by the actress herself. Jumping off a bridge onto a moving semi-truck probably wasn’t one of them, though.
The supporting cast is more than decent. Schreiber does a good job as someone who appears truly sympathetic of Salt’s plight and ready to defend his friend. Because Ejiofor’s character spends most of the film hunting down our hero though, his character is more unlikeable. He even punches Salt at one point.
Orbrychski oozes untrustworthiness as designated villain Orlov, playing the stereotype of the Russian general to a T without overly hamming it up. Diehl is also good as the nice guy husband, in a reversal of roles from that of typical spy films. However, Hunt Block as the US President has only one expression, that of wide-eyed shock and confusion, and is never really believable as the leader of the free world.
The action sequences in Salt keep the film at a brisk pace. While it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, it does stretch the imagination. Salt appears to be made out of a much harder rock than her namesake, bouncing off vans and trucks and jumping down elevator shafts. Evelyn Salt is a veritable one-woman Special Forces unit, but that is arguably part of the fun.
Mention must also be given to the score by James Newton-Howard, which is perfect action movie music, complete with rhythmic percussion, stirring strings and blaring horns. It manages to be kinetic at times and ominous at others.
Unfortunately, the movie is weighed down by an ending that is utterly preposterous and implausible, even in another universe and one that will have everyone going “what the hell?!” However, I’ll admit it was really hard to see the twist coming.
Salt is definitely watchable, but it rarely rises above being just that. The movie has no edge, no distinction other than Jolie. Still, you could do far, far worse this summer if you need to kill a couple of hours at the Cineplex. In the end, it’s fun and, after all, a little salt goes a long way to make a bland meal delicious.
RATING: 3.5/5 STARS
By Jedd Jong Yue