Directed by Philip Noyce
Starring – Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Screenplay by – Kurt Wimmer, Brian Helgeland
There are 3 versions of the movie Salt, with none of them substantially differing from the rest, in terms of predictability. This is hard to do, but the makers of the film manage to carry it out. Starting off, for no real reason with the protagonist, Elisabeth Salt (Jolie), being a tortured prisoner in North Korea, we see that her husband managed to pull some strings to get her released. How does a German “arachnologist” have the kind of sway that the CIA does not? We are not sure and it is never explained. The important point is not why things happen, but what everyone does.
What Salt does, is work as an agent for the CIA. She interrogates people, apparently, who walk off the street just before her shift is about to end at her coworker’s (Schreiber) behest.
What this man, a Russian operative named Orlov, reveals is well-known to anyone who has even seen one commercial for the film, or if you look above, seen even the posters. Immediately, and again, for no real benefit, we are shown that Elisabeth Salt is not who we think she is. What this allows, in a contrivance to the plot, is for Smart to elude her would be captors, and still, quite conveniently, accomplish her mission.
Her coworker, Ted Winter, is convinced of her innocence, up to the moment that she appears to complete the mission, and then is shocked into believing his protégé is the bad agent that Orlov said she was. And this is just to start things off.
Philip Noyce is a good director who has made some of the more complex films in recent memory. Clear and Present Danger and The Quiet American are the best examples of this. Salt, a decent worldwide hit, is less complex, and more an attempt to start a franchise. This is detrimental to the movie’s success as a plot, because you know not only does she have to survive, she has to be worth following.
As Salt, Jolie hits all the notes, with no variance or nuance. She performs her physical stunts admirably, for the most part, and definitely looks as if she is of Russian heritage. The movie will win her no awards, but has more franchise potential than anything she’s done. I am not much of a Jolie, but I have to admire the way with which she holds up as an action star in this film and others, like Wanted. Movie promotions pushed forth the question “Who is Salt?” and she does her best to hold a straight face. Problem is, a straight face is not what is required here. There is an attempt to give her some gravitas, by giving her a husband that she seems to love. So little is known about the husband, though, that we are forced to just assume he is a disposable piece.
The plot describes an event, called Day X, which is based upon the idea of sleeper cells being awoken after many years of appearing to assimilate within U.S. society. The concept opens up the idea of many potential persons in the film potential agents for the enemy should be intriguing, but this movie is transparent from the beginning. This is mostly due to the rule of economy of characters (described by Ebert here). There is no point in the film where you don’t know what is going to occur next. Even when there is a giant hole left in the story, you can count on it being only in service to the overall plot.
Noyce’s own father was a spy for his home country, Australia. This motivated him since childhood to discover the inner workings of those who keep secrets to reveal the secrets of others. He is an extremely competent, and at times, quite an inspired director. Those who have seen The Quiet American and Rabbit-Proof Fence can attest to this. Here he comes off as less inspired, than professional. This film is technically well made. There is limited CGI, and the effects look remarkably real. The film moves from point A to point B with precision. Problem is, when nothing varies and she does not kill anyone in pursuit of her “mission,” even by accident, it doesn’t make her seem like the bad guy, and you come to show her inner workings much too easily and the tension is released before it has time to build.
Matt Damon changed his cinematic fortunes when he came out with the Bourne Identity. That movie was taut, intense, and kept you guessing because you really felt that Bourne had no idea what he was or why he was being chased. Jolie’s Salt is presented with the same set of circumstances, in essence, with one major difference: she has all of her faculties and she knows what she is supposed to do next. Unfortunately, so do we.
(*** out of *****)