Phillip Noyce’s Salt asks a few questions. What if the Cold War isn’t really over? What if the Russians have a whole bunch of sleeper agents poised to strike at the heart of America? What would Angelina Jolie look like if she had bleached blonde hair? Each of these questions are answered with equal amounts of depth. No, this isn’t a biting dissection of America’s latent Red Fear. The whole ‘Rise of the Soviet Union’ plot line is a means to an end, and that end is seeing Angelina Jolie beat people up. Therefore, mission accomplished.
Jolie stars as Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent with a loving husband (August Diehl) and, as previously mentioned, an impressive bouquet of blonde locks. Her carefree life is turned upside down the day a Russian defector by the name of Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) walks into CIA HQ and accuses her of being a Soviet agent in disguise. Her colleague Ted (Liev Schreiber) doesn’t buy it, but a Counter-Intelligence agent (Chiwetel Ejifor) wishes to subject her to some questioning. Salt doesn’t feel like being questioned, and swiftly escapes. Is she really a sleeper agent on route to assassinate the President, or simply an innocent woman fighting to clear her name? Although the answer would firmly fall into “spoiler” territory, I can reveal that she conducts an awful lot of face-kicking in the process.
Angelina Jolie hardly needs to remind us of her action chops, but Salt is a welcome return to form for an actress who has been floundering in melodramas for far too long. She’s a gifted actress sadly overshadowed by her immense fame, impossibly handsome husband and racially diverse brood of bubs. Her choice of vehicles regularly disappoints both critics and audiences alike (even if her performances always impress). The only time she really shines is when she’s punching below her weight in silly action films. I’m sure I would feel differently if her choice of serious roles weren’t so … boring; if her non-event film roles weren’t so … uneventful. In the meantime, Salt gives us unadulterated Jolie, and for that we can only be thankful.
That being said, this is such a silly movie. Very, very silly. Not as silly as her previous actioner Wanted (the one with a magical, future-seeing, assassination-assigning loom). Still, it’s silly. This is the price of having spectacular action sequences; sometimes you need to surrender your perception of logic, gravity, international relations and one’s ability to sustain bodily harm. The film’s range of homemade weapons are even more resourceful than those in the Bourne series (this film’s kindred spirit). Highlights include a shoe-knife, a spider-poison filled syringe, and most impressively, a chair-leg rocket-launcher.
Noyce is no stranger to the world of international intrigue, having previously helmed Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games and The Quiet American. Of course, he’s hardly dealing with the lofty themes of the latter film here. He proves himself to be a more-than competent action director (if perhaps a personality-free one). What’s most impressive about Salt (aside from Jolie’s committed performance) is the film’s relentless pace. I can’t remember the last action film so devoted to being all action, all the time. Frankly, it’s a little exhausting.
So what keeps such an action-heavy flick like Salt from matching the heights of the Bourne saga? Well, the silliness for one. Even though the actors are game (Schreiber and Ejifor deliver, as per usual) they can’t quite overcome the South Park-esque depiction of Russian/American relations. Also, the big twists aren’t quite as twisted (or surprising) as you would hope. Salt is more than a mere distraction; it’s an above -average action film with a performance from Jolie that only affirms her superstar-status. Here’s hoping she can one day find a film that sits somewhere between dumb action and overwrought drama. Then she can really strut her stuff.