Who is Salt? I wish I could tell you, in fact I wish I knew. It is a question that the marketing execs behind the film have taunted me with for months. Even after seeing the film, I’m still not sure I can answer it. Overly concerned with creating the next Greengrass/Damon team with his star Jolie, director Phillip Noyce forgets to tell us just who Salt really is.
Despite what the trailer may have you beleive, Salt is a silly film and at times it is just downright absurd. The entire cast takes the film way too seriously and with a script filled with more twists and turns than a maze, the movie starts to get lost in its own mess. By the time we see Jolie dressed up as a man, we know director Phillip Noyce has truly lost his marbles.
The film starts off interestingly enough, it opens with a flashback of Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent, being held captive in North Korea. A couple torture scenes ensue and she is eventually given back to the US in exchange for a Korean prisoner. Jump forward to the present day. Salt is still working at the CIA. As the day is coming to a close, she receives word that a Russian defector has entered the building and he wants to talk. Apparently he has secrets that will help the CIA out and Salt is called in to see what he wants in return for his information.
Now here’s where things get interesting. Salt meets with the Russian defector Orlov and he tells her something shocking. He says “My name is Vassily Orlov. Today, a Russian agent will travel to New York city to kill the President. The name of the agent is Evelyn Salt.” Of course this catches our heroine’s attention and she perks up and says “My name is Evelyn Salt” with which Orlov replies “Then you are a Russian spy.”
It’s an intriguing enough premise and one that will no doubt capture your attention. Prompted by the heinous accusation, Salt is forced to go on the run to try to clear her name. In a redundant manner, the first half of the film plays out like one long Bourne-esque chase scene. Somehow Salt manages to always stay one step ahead of the CIA agents chasing her.
In an all too familiar fashion we see Salt performing some nifty stunts and managing impossible getaways. After the third of fourth impossible to believe move that Salt pulls off, it starts to get boring. The chase that ensues goes on for far too long and by the time she actually does get away from the agents, the film is already in its second half.
One problem that I had with the film, especially the first half, is that while the stunts are nicely done, I just can’t buy into Angelina Jolie’s role. Here we have this fairly small and skinny woman who is out running and out muscling these big, strong CIA agents. It just doesn’t seem realistic that she’d be able to take down multiple enemies and come out completely unscathed. Salt is given that super human persona that Jason Bourne was given in the Bourne films. Due to this, we never really feel like she’s in any true peril. No matter what the stakes are we know she’ll come out ok.
Some of the action scenes are also a bit far fetched. One scene in particular that has Salt climbing down an elevator shaft is not only unrealistic but it also showcases some pretty poor CG effects. Another scene that has her jumping across car roofs, on a highway, going full speed, may be fun to watch but it is totally far fetched. It’s going to take more than a suspension of disbelief to get through some of the action scenes here.
Luckily things do pick up in the second half and as CIA agents Peabody and Winter (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Liev Schreiber) start to catch up with Salt, we do start to get some answers. As the pieces of the puzzle come together the film looks like it’s going to take a turn for the better. During the second half we get to see some badass action scenes, where Jolie kicks some serious ass. They’re entertaining and fun to watch despite their preposterous nature. The second act is easily the strongest but it doesn’t last for long.
With haphazard direction, Noyce forms a third act where everything seems to fall apart. Working off a Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen) script, the film collapses under its over ambitious drive to shock us. Plot twist after plot twist is revealed and nothing really seems to add up anymore. The film overdoes it and manages to provide nothing more than a handful of asinine plot twists that will leave you scratching your head. If that wasn’t bad enough, the film continues to lead us brashly towards an ending that ultimately amounts to nothing. Nothing is resolved and the film ends on a cliffhanger, clearly making way for a sequel.
One main issue with the film is that it never really tells you who Salt is. To make matters worse, after all the plot twists at the end, you’re left even more confused as to who she is and what her motives are. The film uses flashbacks as it attempts to give us more backstory on the character. The problem is, the scenes that do serve to further develop Salt as a character are perfunctory and nothing more than a futile effort to build an emotional connection. We are never really told why we should root for Salt and it seems like the filmmakers want us to root more for Angelina Jolie than the actual character of Evelyn Salt.
The performances themselves weren’t bad and all the leads were pretty strong. They all take their roles seriously and give a great effort. Ejiofor and Schreiber have somewhat underwritten roles but still manage to rev up the intensity, even if it is due to overacting. Jolie has some great scenes also, one scene in particular which takes place on a boat is pretty badass and it shows off the Jolie that we remember from her days as an action star.
In the end, Salt amounts to nothing more than a popcorn film and a mediocre one at best. It really doesn’t offer anything new and the thrills that are here are few and far between. It may hold your attention for its 1 hour and 40 minute runtime, but by the end you’ll be fed up with its shenanigans and disappointed by its far too open ending.
Salt was released on July 23rd 2010