Old 07-22-2010, 11:00 PM
Phillip Noyce's Salt

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Salt (2010)

This is one of those movies that it seems like we've been hearing about for a long time now. "Salt" was originally scripted for a male lead with Tom Cruise taking the role. However, Cruise felt it was too close to his "Mission: Impossible" films (he's already done the rogue on the run) and decided to back out, leaving the role open for someone else. In steps Angelina Jolie, causing the script to be revised for a female lead.

Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent who we learn had been captured in North Korea, but freed after a prisoner exchange. Some years later, she is going about her normal job when in walks a Russian defector, Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), who informs them that a Russian sleeper spy is going to kill the Russian president in New York City while he is attending the Vice President's funeral. He also tells them one other shocking piece of information: The name of the spy is Evelyn Salt.

One thing Evelyn has learned in all her years of being a CIA agent is that a spy's family is in danger once they are activated, causing her to worry about her husband, Mike (August Diehl). She immediately claims innocence, but has to escape in order to find her husband. The rest of the CIA, including her good friend and colleague Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber), are in hot pursuit as they try to determine whether Evelyn is really who she claims to be.

The story begins in a very convoluted way as Orlov tells Salt all about the Russian program that trained the spies ever since they were little children and how they would then be planted in the United States to await the day they would be needed. Once the film finally gets through this section however, it sets up what seemed like an interesting plot.

Unfortunately, the writer, Kurt Wimmer ("Equilibrium," "The Thomas Crown Affair"), decided to reveal a crucial piece of information far too early, causing the audience to no longer even wonder about that pivotal plot point. This is probably part of the reason why the story ultimately never became as engaging as it should have been.

There was a plus side to the film however. There are plenty of fast-paced action sequences that keep the film moving along including a freeway chase in which Evelyn has to jump onto the tops of moving truck and another escape sequence that involves some amazing ingenuity with a fire extinguisher, a couple of chemicals, and some metal tubing. It turns out Evelyn is quite adept at improvisation. I don't recall another film in which I've seen someone drive a car from the backseat by tasing an unconscious driver.

"Salt" is another one of those action films that requires a suspension of disbelief. If you aren't able to do that, you'll find yourself wondering how Evelyn manages to avoid breaking every bone in her body as she's jumping across truck tops, surviving a deadly car crash, and leaping down an elevator shaft. Maybe all that CIA training comes in handy?

The film comes from director Phillip Noyce, who you may recall did a couple of films based on the Tom Clancy novels "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger," so he has proven that he knows how to handle this type of material. You may also recall that he did "The Saint," an adaptation of the old TV show. He must be a fan of plots that include a lot of international intrigue.

Wimmer throws a couple of twists in at the end as if he's trying to make up for the lack of engagement in the story, and while they are somewhat interesting surprises, it ends up not being enough to make up for it. It's certainly not a bad movie. It's got enough entertainment value to warrant a rental on a dull night at home, just not enough to recommend rushing out to your local theater. 2.5/4 stars.
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