Directed by: Phillip Noyce
Written by: Kurt Wimmer
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl
It's been quite awhile since Hollywood has dragged our old cold war enemy out of the closet to thrill us and scare us with spies, action, and of course the threat of the complete destruction of the world as we know it. Yet the bear is back - snarling and growling, riding a unicycle and juggling, and just as intent on the destruction of the United States as it ever was before.
Evelyn Salt is a high ranking CIA agent. One sunny day, an aging and apparently dying Russian defector appears at her office, ready to spill his spying guts for nefarious reasons of his own. His story is rather fantastic - decades ago, Russian KGB agents abducted newborn children, and set about raising them themselves under a great 'Spymaster'. This master molded the children into fanatically loyal agents to the diabolical agency, and then unleashed them to America when they were seven or eight years old. All of them were instructed to 'become American', grow up, bide their time, and infiltrate the US government by undertaking various careers. Now, decades later, these Russian sleepers are being sent the signal to 'wake up', and begin their work of destruction from within the US government itself, which is to go down on 'Day X'.
This defector states that Day X is imminent and that the first step is a Russian mole will assassinate the Russian President (yes, their own president) while pretending to be an American agent, thus setting the stage for a significant world war. If this isn't bad enough, he drops the bomb - Evelyn Salt is herself one of these Russian moles. All of the CIA's lie detectors say that the man is telling the truth, and Salt's CIA coworkers turn to her with alarm. Salt's a suspect! Panicking, she bolts out of the interrogation room, manages to break out of the entire CIA compound, and goes on the lam.
This is the stage for all of the action. Salt must evade US authorities while simultaneously unveiling the nefarious Russian plot and its varied assortment of dangerous spies. The story also seeds a bit of intrigue; is Salt really as innocent as we might think at first? Who else might be a mole? The program of seeding Russian children into US culture has been extreme, and you just never know who might turn out to be a bad guy. It could be anyone!
One of the things Salt has going for it is that it reasonably manages to present a ridiculous plot as 'believable enough'. I think it's pretty unlikely that any child living in the US since they were eight years old, no matter how brain washed they were previously, would ever leap up to commit grand treason at the more mature age of 38 (or, however old these folks are supposed to be). Western civilization is infectious. No one's going to remain loyal to some old crazy coot who brainwashed them 30 years ago. If someone got the order to go out and initiate mass destruction, they'd immediately fret that this meant they could no longer Keep Up with the Kardashians; actually, now that I'm thinking about that show, maybe we do deserve to have our culture toppled.
But Salt somehow manages to skirt by all that. The action sequences and chase scenes are all built well enough to capture the attention and hide the fact the rest of the film may not make complete sense. This is a spy adventure that's a bit retro; like the great James Bond films (though not nearly that over the top), it manages to have one foot in reality and the other in fantasy, all the while hiding on which toe it is currently leaning.
Angelina Jolie's performance in the film is pretty entertaining. I'm not sure anyone else has noticed, but the woman is rather attractive; however, the tone of the film does a great job in not gratuitously drawing attention to this fact. If this had been starring Megan Fox, for example, every single line of dialogue would have been spoken in such a way to remind the viewer just how hot she is. Jolie plays her role rather straight, and has no problem getting dirty. During the first significant action sequence, in which she is fleeing the CIA after being ousted as a potential spy, she ends up completely disheveled, struggling to climb the side of a building, with bare and filthy feet. Filthy feet! This definitely avoids "hot and sexy" (at least to those of us who aren't foot perverts). Salt avoids sinking into absolute cheese by not overtly focusing on Jolie's beauty, and instead portraying her simply as a woman who's fighting a vast conspiracy in any way she can.
Part of this might have to do with how the script was generated. The film was originally planned to star Tom Cruise until the actor backed out. Angelina Jolie stepped in for the title role, and so some of the key characters (such as her love interest) had their gender flipped. After watching this movie, it's believable that her dialogue could have easily been written for a male - there isn't much reliance upon gender in most of what she says or does. I think this is an excellent thing and helped to bring some of the entertainment value that Salt has to offer.
Salt is nothing new. This is an old fashioned action popcorn flick with a not-really-plausible plot, a load of intrigue, and a lot of clever stunts and shootouts. It's not really memorable stuff; yet it will probably keep viewers mostly amused for its 100 minute run time. Though the Russians might take it more as a comedy. At least, I hope they do.
Great review. I was planning on waiting for it to hit video but it sounds like a good time and I owe my fiancee one.
This is not a dream... not a dream. We are using your brain's electrical system as a receiver. We are unable to transmit through conscious neural interference. You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year one, nine, nine, nine. You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are seeing. Our technology has not developed a transmitter strong enough to reach your conscious state of awareness, but this is not a dream. You are seeing what is actually occurring for the purpose of causality violation.