Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Salt
As the story goes, Tom Cruise dropped out of doing Salt opting to do the film Knight and Day instead, leaving a vacancy that was ultimately filled by Angelina Jolie. We should all remember to thank Mr. Cruise for doing us that favor.
Although, it’s easy to see why Cruise might’ve been trepidacious about doing a film like Salt: the immediate comparison that springs to mind is the now-revered Jason Bourne franchise, which may have been too close for comfort (for a leading man, that is).
However, with Angelina Jolie taking over the lead role Salt instantly becomes a different animal: one that I would rank above the first Bourne film, but somewhere below that franchise’s superior sequels.
Jolie stars as Evelyn Salt, a highly-trained spy in the CIA’s Russian Division. As the movie opens, we flashback to a dark time in Salt’s life, when she was captured behind enemy lines and brutally tortured. It was only the love and dedication of her boyfriend-turned-husband Mike (August Diehl) that saved her from hell. It also transformed the lady spy tiger into something of a CIA house cat, content to stay behind a desk pushing paper and enjoying her marital bliss.
Things get turned upside down the day a Russian defector named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) comes waltzing into CIA headquarters. Orlov is an old die-hard Russian spook, who warns Salt and her longtime boss and friend, Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber), of a plot to assassinate the Russian president, who happens to be coming to New York City in order to attend the funeral of the recently-deceased U.S. Vice President. Having the Russian President assassinated on U.S. soil would of course push U.S./Russian relations to a breaking point, thereby inciting a new war between the super powers.
Orlov warns that the assassin who will carry out the hit is the prodigy of a top-secret Russian spy program going back decades, one in which children were trained and brainwashed into being long-term sleeper agents who were then assimilated into U.S. culture. He drops a bombshell when he informs the CIA operatives that the assassin’s name is (wait for it)… Evelyn Salt.
Of course Salt and Winter claim that Orlov is blowing smoke, but an NSA watchdog named Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is not so certain. As far as Peabody is concerned, Salt needs to be locked down and interrogated – but before any of that can happen, Orlov makes a brazen escape and Salt – fearing that her husband could be in danger – is forced to go on the run.
From there, the action-packed chase is on.
Salt was written by Kurt Wimmer, who is famous for tortuous mystery/espionage films like The Thomas Crown Affair, The Recruit and Law Abiding Citizen. The marks of a good Wimmer script are the constant-yet-surprising twists that are thrown at you; just when you think you’ve guessed an easy answer, that “answer” is revealed to be red herring and something truly unexpected shifts the film into another gear. The espionage plot of Salt is both filled with your usual spy-movie conventions (double/triple agents, betrayals, insane plans executed to perfection) but also some truly surprising moments. It’s nice to get a spy film that can still do that (surprise you).
Director Phillip Noyce (who worked with Jolie on The Bone Collector and handled spy-action with The Saint) keeps this film moving at a frenetic pace that never lets up. Within 20 minutes the principal players are all established, the plot is set into motion, and from there it’s a tight 90-minute chase as Salt tries to uncover the truth about what’s going on. Again, it’s nice to have a film that gets right to the point in less than two hours. Noyce also has a semi-decent talent for practical action scenes – there are a few misses (a sequence with Salt descending an elevator shaft is slightly laughable) but more often than not, the action in the film was exciting and engaging. On the whole, it worked for me.
A lot of what elevates this movie above what it could’ve been (a Bourne clone) rests solely on the talents of Jolie. Sure, it’s hard to be non-biased when you’re staring at one of the most beautiful women on the planet kicking ass and taking names, but it’s undeniable at this point that Jolie is one of the most talented action stars (and dramatic actresses) in the movie industry. Maintaining a balance that is equal parts femininity and ferocity can be a near-impossible task for an actress, and yet Jolie makes jumping off a bridge onto a moving truck, or kicking the asses of a room full of tough guys look scary easy.
The supporting cast is also full of talent. Liev Schreiber – whose piercing stare and off-beat ticks can be painfully awkward when miscast – gets a lot to work with in his role as Salt’s boss, Ted Winter. The role is a pivotal one that could’ve been the breaking point of the movie if placed in the wrong hands. Thankfully the part went to Schreiber and he milks it for every sweet drop. Chiwetel Ejiofor – what’s to say? The guy is probably one of the most reliable actors working today and never fails to hold up his end, no matter how marginalized a role he’s playing. His character Peabody is a little one-dimensional (the unrelenting cop on the hunt), but as I said, he holds it up well and never lets the lack of depth detract from the film. Other supporting actors like Daniel Olbrychski as Orlov and August Diehl as Mike Krause, Salt’s husband, all do well and elevate what could’ve been derivative fare to the level of an enjoyable ride. Oh, and acclaimed actor Andre Braugher even shows up for a cameo – never a bad thing.
In true action movie fashion, Salt ends on a note that obviously sets it up as a future franchise. Does it deserve another chapter? I think so. In my opinion, there’s room aplenty for more female action stars in this male-dominated arena – and no lady does it better than Angelina. I imagine that somewhere, Tom Cruise is smacking his forehead with the palm of his hand as he looks over the dismal box office returns on Knight and Day.