– Summary –
Director : Phillip Noyce
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, August Diehl, Daniel Olbrychski.
Approx Running Time : 1hr 50 minutes.
Synopsis: CIA Agent Evelyn Salt is accused of being a Russian spy. She takes off, ostensibly to stop an assassination on the life of the visiting Russian President. Her persuers must try to determine whether she’s actually a deep cover spy, or one of the good guys, before events spiral out of control and threaten to reignite the Cold War and nuclear apocalypse.
What we think : Female-slanted Bourne clone, with Jolie doing her riff on Lara Croft/Mrs Smith, as Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent on the run after being labelled as a deep-cover Russian spy. Director Philip Noyce brings his A-game to the screenplay, directing the action with a breathless rapid-fire editorial panache, although he still can’t overcome wooden characters and been-there, done-that plot devices. Good, but not great, entertainment.
Having enjoyed the film career of Angelina Jolie since discovering her in the TV miniseries Gia (thanks a lot for that one, Ms Jolie!), I was naturally keen to see her once again don the action-girl suit and lock-and-load. Salt, her latest action venture, was originally written for a male lead character, although when Jolie decided to get involved, this was swapped for a female one. I think this decision proved wise, considering just how similar in tone Salt is to the Bourne films starring Matt Damon. It’s this similarity that works both for and against the Jolie actioner, as it struggles to escape the shadow of the Ludlum character but feels like a warm blanket of familiarity. Jolie’s winning looks, her ability to pull off the role of action heroine, and director Noyce’s history with fast paced films of this nature, all click together here; Salt is a film lacking subtlety and charm, instead holding firm to its fast-paced narrative to hold your attention. Is it a good film? It’s okay, but there are enough flaws to prevent it achieving the franchise potential the Bourne films currently enjoy.
Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a CIA operative, previously held captive in North Korea and freed after negotiations between the USA and Kim Jong Il; reuniting her with her husband. Three years later, a Russian defector arrives at her CIA office, with information pertaining to the imminent assassination of the visiting Russian President, in the US for the funeral of the Vice President. Apart from a story involving a family being in a car accident, he also informs the CIA that an assassin named Evelyn Salt will kill the Russian President. This information provokes Salt to run, evading capture by the CIA until she can figure out what’s going on. Her proclamation that she’s not an assassin, a spy for Russia, falls on deaf ears, as Internal Affairs agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) pursues her as she runs. Salt’s CIA supervisor, Ted Winter (Leiv Schreiber) believes her to be innocent, but can’t prove it.
Honestly, to give away any more plot details would spoil the way this film unfolds, as deception and deceit are the order of the day. Salt has many twists, although you can feel most of them coming (except for one jaw-dropper right towards the end) and at times, you get the feeling you’ve seen this kind of film before. Salt is scripted by Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium & UltraViolet) and Brian Helgeland (director of A Knights Tale, writer of Payback, Mystic River, LA Confidential, Man On Fire, among others) and somehow both these talented men have cobbled together elements of other, more successful genre pictures. The spy game is always filled with double-crosses and twists, so as an audience member you’re almost waiting for those twists to occur; Salt doesn’t disappoint with its Möbius Strip narrative, as Evelyn reveals a different side to herself than we’re set up to believe. Mixing in a return to the Cold War, assassinations and varied other subterfuges, Salt doesn’t dwell on logic or reason, it just exists for the sake of itself.
There’s very little character development, and that “very little” isn’t great to start with. Salt herself, as portrayed by the steely eyed Jolie, is a carbon copy of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, with the unstoppable rage and menace that simply wades through bad guys like a hot knife through butter. Jolie isn’t given much emotional depth to play with, save for a tenuously developed “husband” character (played by August Diehl) who disappears from the film about fifteen minutes in and isn’t used again, except in a badly underwritten scene featuring Russian bad guy Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski). Orvlov himself is full of menace, and Olbrychski plays him well, the “old man” Russian who feels like a father figure to the pivotal characters in the film. Schreiber is solid as Ted, Salt’s boss, who tries to protect her as much as he can whilst she’s being pursued across the country. It’s another “nice guy” role for Schieber, and he plays it well. Even 2012 and Love Actually star Ejiofor (by God if that name doesn’t play havoc with my spell checker!) has a grand time chewing the scenery as the Federal Agent tasked with recapturing Salt and bringing her in. His character is little more than a cardboard cutout of your standardised CIA agent (gun, badge and ability to drive on the side-walk!) but he gives it his all.
And that’s the key to Salt, really. Each character is so underdeveloped, so underwritten, the film feels a lot like it’s simply giving us its all as it goes through the motions. There’s no real emotion anywhere to be felt, not even from Jolie herself, instead the film seems simply a barrage of action scenes and quick-cut hand-held footage emulating Paul Greengrass’s work on the Bourne Films. Salt owes a lot to Bourne, it must be said. It’s made from the same mould. Unlike Bourne, though, Salt is a character so utterly unapproachable as a character she feels flat and lifeless. Jolie can’t deliver a performance based on this script, since it’s little more than a series of gunfights and explosions. Wimmer and Helgeland have assumed that audiences must love the way Bourne simply kicks ass throughout his own film, and decided to simply copy and paste the same thing in their own script. They’ve done that well, but whereas the audience feels Jason Bourne’s pain and anguish at not knowing who he is, and feeling his loss of identity, we can’t get that out of Salt. Her leap from office-bound CIA agent to car-hopping, gun-toting action heroine is so big the film almost feels like two distinct halves; the quiet half and the loud half.
Salt isn’t a bad film, not by any stretch. But it’s not a great film either, content to re-use the kind of plot devices Tom Clancy’s made a fortune from, and even then, not very well. It’s a well intentioned franchise starter, that much is obvious (hint: she gets away in the end!) but the lack of genuine emotion and use of stock, hollow characters make Salt a middling, frenetically detached film effort. It’s easy to watch, but just as easy to forget.