Review: SALT (2010)

Angelina Jolie in Salt

Salt - extended edition pack shotStarring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor Writers: Kurt Wimmer. Director: Phillip Noyce Price: £19.99 (Amazon price: £9.99) Released: December 13th 2010

Jean-Luc Godard famously said that “All you need to make a movie is a gun and a girl”. Of course, he meant a guy carrying a gun and a girl for him to be with, but times have moved on and thankfully, these days it’s frequently the girls/women who have the guns – and maybe a guy to be with as well.

Now SALT sees CIA agent Angelina Jolie – one of the movies’ most proficient women/girls with guns – accused of being a Russian sleeper agent and having to go on the run (with a gun). So you might suspect it’s nothing more than that formula. However, while you might have low expectations from the trailer and SALT does frequently fall off the narrow line between silly and good into silly on many occasions, it is a lot more than just that formula – in essence, it’s The Bourne Identity but on US soil and with a female lead. That can’t be bad, can it?

Review after the trailer and the jump.

Plot
Angelina Jolie stars as Evelyn Salt, a trusted and loyal CIA operative who is forced to go on the run when a Russian defector convinces her superiors that she’s a double agent sent to assassinate the President of the United States. As the intense manhunt heats up, Salt uses all of her skills as a covert operative to elude capture as she fights to uncover a secret so explosive it could change the course of world history.

Directed by Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games), SALT was written by Kurt Wimmer. Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Sunil Perkash produced, with Ric Kidney and Mark Vahradian serving as executive producers.

Is it any good?
Holistically, it’s a bit daft. A lot less daft than the average US action-spy movie or TV show (eg Chuck, Undercovers, Mission: Impossible 2/3 et al) but daft – and Angelina Jolie’s multiple unconvincing hair colours and styles aren’t even the daftest thing about it.

We have right from the beginning the suggestion from a defector that someone in the US intelligence community is actually a Russian sleeper agent implanted into US society during the Cold War, following the first successful usage of the tactic in the form of Lee Harvey Oswald. Said sleeper agent is going to be activated to kill the Russian president on a state visit to the US. The defector says it’s Angelia Jolie, and Jolie has to go on the run, in part because she’s worried that her husband has been abducted by the Russians and she has to hunt him down.

Pursuing Jolie are colleagues Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who find that despite her two years incarceration in a North Korean prison camp and her subsequent years behind a desk, Jolie hasn’t lost any of her edge when it comes to evading capture.

So sounds daft, doesn’t it? And throughout much of the movie, you have to suspend your disbelief as super-spies are despatched with ease, US security surrounding the US and Russian presidents is penetrated by a sole agent working alone, and Jolie jumps from moving truck to moving truck and elevator shaft wall to elevator shaft wall like she’s in Frogger. The daftnesses are never too egregious – you will say to yourself, “Oh surely not,” and snigger a few times, but you’ll never actually throw your remote at the TV or think the whole of the movie is now completely ruined as a result of any but a very few of them at most – but they’re definitely there.

Yet from moment to moment, it’s all done with a great degree of aplomb. Jolie is great as Evelyn Salt and does the steely eyed secret agent routine well. She does well at the stunts, whether they’re motorcycle chases or gun fights, and there’s enough realism in the fight scenes that we don’t have her out-muscling guys twice her weight and height without resorting to weaponry, kneecap crunching and other dirty tricks. Sure, everyone who gets knocked out stays knocked out for an hour or so, but hey, it’s the movies.

Phillip Noyce, while he shows little of the innovation he displayed in Dead Calm, moves the story along slickly and although the CGI often lets him down, the visual effects and live-action stunts are very good.

The story also does mess with audience expectations. There are several points in the movie when you’re really not sure who you should be cheering for, there are a couple of really good twists, and the script does a good job of making you doubt Salt’s innocence right up until the end (indeed, there’s even a little ambiguity there). The message that (spoiler) a trained Soviet double-agent like Jolie can easily take out America’s finest is also a real departure from the usual flag-waving.

Liev Schreiber is a little underused until the end and the movie has to jump through numerous hoops to make his actions convincing; Chiwetel Ejiofor gets even less to do, but like Terrence Howard in Iron Man, he’s obviously only in this one so he can have more to do in the sequel. Because there’s an obvious set-up at the end for a sequel, albeit for a very different kind of movie, one that could actually be quite intriguing.

There are much better films than SALT out there. There are also many, many far far worse films out there. Thanks to a combination of Angelina Jolie and some decent fights, this is probably the one you should be getting if you want a decent, interesting female character in an action movie – or even if you want an action movie, since it’s a whole lot better than much of the current competition. It’s certainly good enough for me to keep my copy, rather than give it away in a competition like I normally do.

Sorry.

Rating: 4/5

DVD extras
As well as the movie itself, there’s an audio commentary by the director. Intriguingly, on this special edition DVD, there are not one but two alternative versions: a director’s cut and an extended edition with three extra minutes of footage. There’s also a number of featurettes and trailers:

DVD Special Features

  • The Ultimate Female Action Hero

  • Spy Disguises: The Looks of Evelyn Salt

  • Radio Interview and Audio Commentary with Director Phillip Noyce

Blu-ray Special Features

  • The Ultimate Female Action Hero
  • Spy Disguises: The Looks of Evelyn Salt

  • Radio Interview and Audio Commentary with Director Phillip Noyce

Top Secret Blu-ray Exclusives

  • Salt Declassification – An Undercover Look at the Secrets of Making SALT

  • The Real Agents Featurette

  • The Modern Master of the Political Thriller: Phillip Noyce

  • False Identity: Creating the New Reality

  • Spy Cam Picture in Picture Track

  • Movie IQ