Salt (Movie Review)
3 out of 4 stars
Although ‘Salt’ is definitely cinematic fast food, its exotic seasoning makes it a tastier morsel than one might expect. Driven by a feisty action heroine performance from Angelina Jolie and a relentless barrage of white-knuckle action, Phillip Noyce’s espionage thriller surpasses its expected B-movie status and provides some of the most raucous thrills on offer this summer. Even if it fits the label ‘mindless action’ to a tee, ‘Salt’ is undeniably a guilty pleasure from start to finish.
Ironically, ‘Salt’s initial premise suggests an intelligent thriller akin to ‘The Bourne Identity’, rather than the Rambo-like action fest which the film swiftly reveals itself as. Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, an attractive CIA officer in Washington D.C. who seemingly lives the American dream, dividing her time between her successful office career and her loving husband (August Diehl) at home. However, Salt’s world is turned upside down when a mysterious Russian defector arrives at the agency, accusing Salt of being a Russian double agent and revealing details of a sinister plot to assassinate the Russian president during an upcoming funeral of a U.S. senator in New York. With her and her husband’s life at risk from both the CIA and a covert Russian terrorist force, Salt is forced to run from the authorities, embarking on a dangerous journey across the country as she attempts to solve a chilling conspiracy which threatens the entire fate of the free world.
Perhaps the movie’s biggest flaw is its failure to substantially develop the mysterious espionage plot promised at in its trailer. After an electrifying first fifteen minutes, which include a harrowing torture sequence in North Korea and tantalising hints at Salt’s identity, the film devolves into a simple minded chase movie, with Salt merely running from one shootout to the next as her former CIA colleagues Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) follow behind in hot pursuit.
To the filmmakers’ credit, the main body of the narrative does contain a number of twists and turns, such as Salt’s loyalties, the presence of a traitor in the CIA, and the nefarious means through which the Russians train their undercover spies. However, not only are these plot twists glaringly obvious and shoehorned into tiny gaps between action scenes, they are also some of the most ludicrous to date in a recent spy movie. As a result, the film’s story occasionally seems more suited to ‘Austin Powers’ than a violent, adult thriller.
Fortunately, ‘Salt’s narrative weakness is more than compensated for by a riveting central performance from Angelina Jolie. Radiating sex appeal and lethal charm in every frame, Jolie’s Evelyn Salt is one of the most magnetic action heroes of recent times, effortlessly capturing the audience’s attention whether she’s using her panties to cover a security camera or jumping hundreds of metres through the air from an airborne helicopter. Not once does the audience doubt that Salt is truly capable of the extraordinary feats on screen, even during the movie’s most absurd set pieces.
As well as Jolie’s performance, the movie’s other main strength is the creativity and breathtaking intensity of its action scenes. Easily surpassing recent release ‘Predators’ as the most viscerally thrilling film of 2010 so far, almost every action scene in ‘Salt’ is meticulously crafted to the level of high art, many lasting over fifteen minutes apiece and building in tension to unbearable plateaus and peaks. Standout pieces include the frantic highway chase, which sees Salt speeding off the edge of bridges on a motorbike and leaping between the roofs of speeding cars, and her daring escape from her apartment block, which should induce height phobia even in the most jaded viewers.
If ‘Salt’s success proves anything, it’s that the sheer star power of Angelina Jolie is still as strong as it’s ever been. Arguably one of the last great superstars able to elevate a movie with her mere screen presence, Jolie’s performance provides the movie with its heart and soul, turning an otherwise generic thriller into an infinitely enjoyable thrill ride. Even if it’s overshadowed in the long term by the closely released ‘Inception’, ‘Salt’ still represents one of 2010’s most entertaining films.