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]
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.
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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.