Lovers of condiments, I have some unfortunate news; Salt, the movie, has absolutely nothing to do with salt, the mineral. Well, both go great with popcorn. But that’s about it.
Lovers of action movies, however, are in luck; this full-tilt espionage thriller from Australian director Philip Noyce hits the sweet spot neglected of late by bland genre mash-ups such as Killers and Knight and Day. Unlike these films, Salt doesn’t mess around trying to be funny or romantic, instead focusing solely on the one thing that counts: pulse-pounding action.
So who, exactly, is Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie)? At first, she would appear to be a devoted CIA agent happily married to a German arachnologist (August Diehl). But that’s before a Russian defector named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski; Taras Bulba) accuses her of being a KGB sleeper agent left over from the Cold War. Rather than refute the claims, Salt decides to make a run for it. Not a good look for someone who says they’re innocent.
While on the run, Salt might as well be the sister of Jason Bourne, daughter of James Bond and cousin to MacGyver. They’ve clearly taught her everything she knows, from creating makeshift bombs to jumping off bridges and onto speeding trucks in order to evade her CIA trackers, Agent Winter (Liev Schreiber; Defiance) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor; 2012). Like the rest of us, they just want some answers. Answers she’s not prepared to give.
Having helmed a number of 90s suspense thrillers such as Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, director Philip Noyce reaffirms his ability to capture exhilarating action, thankfully resisting the urge to resort to rapid-fire editing and nauseating camera jerks. Somewhat fitting for a dated Cold War-era paranoia plot, Noyce restores some classic sensibilities to the action genre that, nowadays, seems to think it has to wink at the audience every time something cliched or unbelievable happens. Salt doesn’t bother to point out just how silly it gets, retaining a straight face even when it goes from depicting the improbable to the downright impossible. It works because Noyce employs few CGI effects — the action is all in camera — and Jolie, remarkably, does all her own stunts. Such visual authenticity makes it surprisingly easy to suspend disbelief and just get caught up in the moment.
If Clint Eastwood’s Changeling flexed Angie’s acting chops, Salt just about flexes everything else. Jolie spends most of her screen time dodging death and swatting down whoever dares stand in her way, delivering all of about four lines of dialogue in the process. The lack of exposition is a deliberate attempt by screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen) to keep us guessing as to Salt’s true identity — is she the protagonist or antagonist? — but it partially backfires in that we never really feel any sympathy for her plight. How can we care when we’re told so little about who she is or what her motives are? Thankfully, Jolie makes for such an exciting and energetic action hero that her shallow characterisation is hardly the detractor it should be. Whether she’s Russian or American, blonde or brunette, Angie’s an absolute blast to watch.
At just 100 minutes long, Salt doesn’t overstay its welcome, wrapping up in a semi-satisfying way that leaves plenty of room for a sequel. If they end up calling it Pepper, I bet it’ll be a real… *ahem*…cracker.
I regret nothing!
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