Salt (Phillip Noyce, 2010)

25Aug10

Angelina Jolie (Evelyn Salt), Liev Schreiber (Ted Winter), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Peabody). Screenplay by Kurt Wimmer. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Rating: 12. Running time: 100 minutes.

News of Salt’s production first hit the media around the time Changeling came out two years ago. Angelina Jolie had finally taken a role in a film that involved more than mere hip swinging and gun firing, and, even if she spent the majority of that film just crying and yelling ‘he’s not my son,’ it was undoubtedly a better choice and performance than anything she had done to date. Hence the annoyance that will have come over a lot of people when Jolie, asked in an interview what her next project would be, confessed she was returning to the screen as what sounded like nothing more than a rehash of her Lara Croft character.

In a way, given the amount of men-bashing and car-crashing that is packed in here, Salt is indeed annoyingly similar to any other action film that Hollywood churns out each summer; and yet at the same time, its marketing campaign has asked a legitimate question that spices things up a little bit more than you might expect: who is Evelyn Salt?

Well, she works for the CIA, and spent time in North Korea spying on their nuclear operations. That’s all we’re really shown and told before the action starts, by which point things have become incredibly mysterious. When a Russian turns up in Washington and claims to be a defector with highly important information, it is Salt who’s first to hear it: a Russian spy, so he claims, will assassinate the Russian President when he attends the American Vice President’s funeral the next day, in a grand operation to somehow destroy the United States. That spy is called Evelyn Salt.

Whether she is indeed a mole or not is something the film refuses to tell us for some time. Her reaction to the revelation is suspicious. Rather than remaining calm and rubbishing the Russian’s accusations, she goes on the run, apparently fearing for the safety of her husband. Soon, however, once she has escaped past a dozen gun-bearing men who could have taken her down at any minute if only they shot before she punched, and after jumping off a bridge and naturally landing safely on top of a moving lorry, she is instead fulfilling the prophecy and heading to New York. It’ll take some incredibly decent guesswork, in the midst of a heap of mindless action and a plethora of twists and turns, if you are to work out what is really going on here: is Evelyn Salt actually the Russian spy she was alleged to be, or is she a grandiose utilitarian calculator using some pretty disturbing means to justify her ultimately noble ends?

It goes without saying that this is all completely unbelievable, not only in the film’s reality-defying action sequences in which Salt is lucky not to die on multiple occasions (apparently Jolie did gain real life injuries filming some of them, that put her in hospital for a day), but also in the film’s wholly implausible number of twists premised on the existence of a world packed with spies and double agents that have somehow reached the peaks of their rival government’s hierarchy. Salt is marketed as an action thriller with a typically intricate plot, and indeed it is exactly that. With Jolie at its centre, however, it becomes annoyingly watchable, and also surprisingly intriguing. Just suspend belief in reality for the film’s duration, as all action films seem to nowadays demand of their audiences anyway, and Salt will deliver the goods.

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