Plot: A Russian defector accuses CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) of being a Russian Spy. He claims she's a deep cover operative working a rogue Russian spy unit, dedicated to the eventual destruction of the United States.
Review: SALT is quite obviously an attempt to launch a new, BOURNE-style spy series for star Angelina Jolie. In the past, Jolie's action roles have produced mixed results. She made a good Lara Croft, but both TOMB RAIDER films were otherwise atrocious, and WANTED, while financially successful, stands as one of the most ridiculous action films of the last few years. MR & MRS. SMITH was probably her most successful action flick, but that had her more or less play second banana to off-screen lover Brad Pitt.
Unlike that film, SALT is all Angelina, with her rarely off screen for the ninety five minute runtime. Jolie's also lucky to have a more than capable action director, Philip Noyce (PATRIOT GAMES, CLEAR & PRESENT DANGER) at the helm this time, and as a pure action film- SALT more or less works.
It must be said- SALT is a VERY action heavy film. After the first ten minutes or so, the film is pretty much wall-to-wall chases, gunfights, and explosions. While none of the set-pieces are particularly exceptional (save for the nifty way she dispatches one of the main baddies toward the end), they still deliver, particularly during a nifty foot-chase early in the film. Towards the end, the action gets more and more over the top, with her transforming into a pure killing machine once she dyes her hair from approachable blond, to “don't fuck with me” black.
In fact, that's one of my main problems with the film- the schizophrenic nature of her character. For a good chunk of SALT, we're supposed to be unsure about whether or not SALT's one of the good guys (or girls). To pull this off, they have her abruptly transform from a mild-mannered CIA case officer, to a bad-ass super spy- but to do this, they strip her of all emotion, and make her a cold-blooded killing machine that's about as personable as a video game character. While Jolie delivers in the action scenes, it's impossible to identify with her after the first half hour. Despite the fact that this is obviously an attempt to cash in on BOURNE, the filmmakers seem to forget that what made BOURNE so cool, was that he was essentially a good hearted guy that just wanted to be left alone. Here, SALT seems to have a borderline personality disorder. That said, Jolie acquits herself nicely throughout, even in the hand-to-hand fight scenes- despite the fact that she looks a little thin at times, and would have been a tad more convincing had she put on a few pounds for the role.
As far as the supporting cast goes, don't expect too much. Jolie's the whole show, and other than Liev Schreiber, as her mentor/nemesis, nobody else in the film gets to do much. Third billed Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I've always thought is a great actor poised to break into the big time, more or less phones it in as the agent charged with capturing SALT. Oddly, he almost completely disappears from the third act of the film, which makes me think this might have been tinkered with in the editing room (Stuart Baird, who supposedly heavily doctored the first TOMB RAIDER, is one of two credited editors). I also hated the fact that Andre Braugher, a superb character actor, is more or less treated as an extra in this film, while the stiff, no-name actor playing the president, gets to be front and centre throughout. Perhaps they could have swapped roles?
I also thought the storyline was pretty weak. I mean, Russians trying to destroy America? Didn't the Cold War end more than twenty years ago? Yes, yes- I know about the recent Russian spy scandal, but I still find it hard to swallow that, according to this film, the Russians managed to plant hundred of spies into North America with the sole objective of destroying the United States, no matter what the cost. The ending, involving a staged nuclear attack, is especially ludicrous- although the final twenty minutes of this film are nonetheless exciting thanks to some taut pacing courtesy of Noyce and his editors.
All in all, SALT is an agreeable film, but nothing special. Time will tell whether or not this ends up being a major franchise for Jolie- although the ending leaves the door wide open for a sequel. If you want a quick, competent action fix, you could do worse than see SALT, although it's easily something you could wait to check out on blu-ray. Perhaps if this had come out a few weeks ago, I might have been more impressed, but in the wake of INCEPTION, it just seems a little ho-hum. Perhaps that's an unfair standard to hold this to, but it is what it is, and SALT is a solid B-movie, but not much more.
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