Reviews

Salt

4

The name’s Salt. Evelyn Salt…

Salt review

Speaking to TF recently, director Phillip Noyce boiled down the appeal of Salt thus: “How much fun is it to see a man demolish 50 other tough guys?” [A shrug] “This much."

"How much fun is it to see a beautiful woman demolish 50 guys?” [Spreads arms wide open] “This much!”

He has a point. Albeit one that’s been made before, most recently on the small screen, via the likes of JJ Abrams’ Alias and James Cameron’s Dark Angel. There are whispers of those shows in Salt’s DNA (though to spell out in what ways may reveal a little too much…).

But of course, neither had Salt’s hefty budget or none-more-A-list star. Noyce uses both judiciously and Jolie in particular doesn’t disappoint. Action suits her like a split skirt - and this may be her best-fitting role to date.

Wilier than Wanted’s Fox, meaner than Mrs Smith, more layered than Lara, Evelyn Salt offers Hollywood’s most successful female action star a new platform to kick ass. And of course, to try and take on the big Bs at the box office: Bond and Bourne.

Sony has made little secret of its hopes this could be the Next Big Spy Franchise. The film offers plenty of compare and contrast moments throughout, starting with the very first seconds.

Echoing the torture scene that took us through the title sequence of Die Another Day, we see a half-dressed, half-alive Salt endure a North Korean prison cell interrogation.

Pertinently, it allows the filmmakers a chance to quickly set out their stall: Evelyn Salt is first and foremost a spy. Gender is a secondary issue. No punches are pulled, literally, in a brutal beginning. You almost expect it to end with 007-type opening credits.

Instead, we get stark, slick, and brief graphics. This isn’t a film with time to kill. From start to finish, there’s rarely anything approaching a quiet moment.

In that regard, it’s more like Bourne: unfussy, fast-paced (almost relentlessly so) and pragmatic about its hero. Salt is not a super-human, she’s a trained weapon: scaling buildings, jumping from bridges, running up walls to gain an advantage in a fight…

Jolie does it all with aplomb and a grin-inducing insouciance. She can callously fire off a round of bullets, or casually drop a grenade with the best of them. But when the pain comes, you feel it.

Helpfully, Noyce (Dead Calm, Patriot Games) knows how to direct action with a clear eye. There are none of Quantum Of Solace’s what-just-happened edits here. And Jolie’s willingness (some would suggest compulsion) to do her own stunts aids her director no end.

Unlike Bourne, this isn’t a character learning who she is. Salt knows. It’s the audience that doesn’t.

Next: Salt review conclusion[page-break]

Salt review

In fact, the film goes out of its way to try and wrong-foot you on everyone’s motives: all the main characters hint at duplicity at one point or another and half the fun is trying to work out who you’re supposed to be rooting for. (But makes for difficult spoiler-free reviewing…).

Kurt Wimmer’s (Law Abiding Citizen) fairly nimble script does as much as it can to convince you that /anyone/ could be a baddie. It even works in enough misdirection to make the audience /almost/ believe that this isn’t the set-up for a stream of sequels.

The filmmakers have also, wisely, reacted to the more emotionally rich Bond of recent times. Salt is not an action robot; there are some neat touches of humanity and internal conflict on display.

Take the standout scene where (without giving anything away…) Salt sees something incredibly distressing but cannot allow any visible hurt to betray her in front of her captors.

Jolie whacks it out of the park: somehow simultaneously pulling off stone-faced while allowing the audience in for a glimpse of the turmoil beneath. Bond writers take note: this is what we want to see Daniel Craig doing.

None of which completely distracts from the fact that the plot, like almost all spy capers, has a few, well, stupid bits. The frenetic pace doesn’t quite counter some logic holes and there are a couple of ropey moments that are reminiscent of bad Bond.

Meanwhile, the recent real-life revelations about Russian sleeper agents (Anna Chapman et al) have been latched onto by Salt’s publicity drive, in hopes of adding an extra layer of prescience/credibility to the film.

This is wishful thinking on the part of the moviemakers (if not downright disingenuous) and, in truth, irrelevant. For Salt – like Bond – realism only hinders momentum. This is a film to get the pulse racing, not the brain ticking. Go with the premise and you’ll have a ball.

As we declared on our cover last month, cinema has a new super spy. And while the closing credits don’t actually spell it out, they might as well do: Evelyn Salt Will Return. And that’s a good thing.

More Total Film reviews

Verdict:

By turns vicious and vulnerable, Jolie is in her element as a new action heroine with icon potential. Keeping you guessing and gasping, it passes the litmus test of any new franchise: come the credit roll, you’ll be wanting more Salt.  

Film Details

User Reviews

    • oui3d

      Aug 23rd 2010, 18:54

      3

      Agree with almost everything you've said except it is let down by the world's most obvious contrivance. (I'm the guy who's not looking for these things and I spotted it in the 1st reel) Which knocks 2 stars off in spite of Angelina's performance and some of Philip Noyce's most coherent action to date. It's a bad mark for Wimmer for writing it post 1990 and one for Noyce for letting it through unchecked. You sometimes get the sense that people who make films don't actually watch them or they wouldn't make such schoolboy errors.

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    • OnScreen

      Aug 25th 2010, 8:25

      2

      I heard that the lead role was meant for Tom Cruise. Even though he's a d****e I think it would have been a better choice given the fact that Angelina looks like she's withering away. Not the greatest thriller I've seen this year. Check out our full review here: http://zoopy.com/q/4xsb

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    • Awolagain

      Sep 8th 2010, 18:26

      3

      Salt: each to enjoy according to taste and blood pressure. Angelina Jolie does for Salt what a grinder does for pepper. She makes it usable for each according to taste. Now if you like your action film to a certain taste you must by now know what that taste is. Angelina has had more than her fair share of action packed opening acts with almost the choice of rolls. If you want a spy-secret agent type with all the attendant bangs, crashes, intrigues, double intrigues, sharp intakes of breath and super kit then this may be the film for you, or of course there’s always Knight and Day. Apparently Mr. Cruise was considering being Salt but opted for Knight and Day with Cameron. It seems blondes, indeed, may have more fun. Angelina bounds seamlessly along with Liev Schreiber, who’s seen it all before in the 2004 Manchurian Candidate remake, as they recreate a post-cold war non-Al Qaeda romp through the United States security services that may or may not be infiltrated with double agents. Now if you happen to have seen the A-Team this summer then taken your cruise around the Islands to return to a “late-summer popcorn-crunching kids-almost-back at school- cinematic blockbuster” called Salt you may think that any mention of the CIA would lead you to be instantly suspicious of that citizen’s motives and loyalties. And what luck to release a film about a deep undercover agent just when a cluster of Russian embedded agents are discovered, brought to justice then shipped home where sadly returning agents are perhaps not welcomed as in the old days of the Politburu, Red Square marching, and big furry hats. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a paucity of big furry hats available from the props department in Salt. But if the Salt franchise takes off where better than to have a sequel, or indeed a prequel, than in dear old Mother Russia where any stuntmen left over from Inception’s snowy set pieces would be of undoubted use. Now for those who formed ideas about Russia and its ambitions from watching Charles Bronson in Telefon, as he tries to prevent a similar conspiracy heading for a disaster befalling the Eagle and the Bear, you will think it a little remiss that the Australian director Phillip Noyce doesn’t use code words to identify friend or foe. Trigger words as used in Telefon and the Manchurian Candidate make great beats as you wait to see a reaction from the characters. Have they been indoctrinated? Have they turned? Is it a double bluff? Of course Mr Noyce takes a more direct approach, one that utilises a machine pistol or some other pro-active post feminist totem. Of course any film that has Liv Schrieber telling Angelina Jollie’s character to remove her panties from the aperture must be worth the entrance fee. The removal of underwear seems to be a theme with Mr Noyce as Nicole’s underwear is removed in Dead Calm and now Angelina’s? For the less prurient it’s best to view it as a part of her character arc and as an early metaphor for change whether spiritual, internal or external. The burning, almost sleep denying, question that after much thought and analysis of plots point, arcs, bluffs, motivations and mythical hero’s journeys is would Tom Cruise have had to remove his panties from the aperture if he’d taken the part? Salt follows all the predictable curves but not necessarily all in the right places, and perhaps doesn’t always make logical sense or follow the path least travelled. But in a multi-layered, almost nostalgic, old fashioned espionage yarn this can only be a good thing especially so when combined with the absence of a memory stick that could be inserted into a Kindle or other convenient media reader as wonderfully placed by Steve Carrell in Date Night. It seems the day of the microdot or microfilm is, well and truly, over and it all rests with memory sticks and embedded agents whether in panties or not, although... “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”

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    • hulk68

      Sep 22nd 2010, 11:58

      4

      The action was very very good, much better than the expendables and the story line was not fantastic but fair enough.

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