By Elena Cresci
Salt sees Angelina Jolie reprise the action genre with a Russian twist. Directed by Phillip Noyce, the film shows the titular character accused of being a mole for the Russians. Claiming concern for her husband, Salt goes on the run, leaving the audience and the authorities chasing her, questioning who Salt truly is.
Jolie is clearly at ease in the action genre, however, she was not the first choice for this role. Originally written for a male lead, Tom Cruise was initially tipped to play Agent Salt. Jolie was eventually cast in the role, and with a few tweaks, Edwin A. Salt became Evelyn Salt. The film could have been markedly different with a male in the leading role, mostly because there would have been a high probability that it would have faded into obscurity with nothing to set it apart from other spy films such as Mission Impossible and The Bourne Identity. Inevitably this change in casting leads to the discussion of the virtues of females vs. males in the spy world. However, pleasantly, no time in the film is wasted on any arguments as to whether a female spy can keep up with her male counterparts.
It’s made clear that Evelyn Salt is a well-respected CIA agent who has given her all to her country, as we see her enduring physical torture in North Korea upon being exposed as an American spy. However, when a defector arrives claiming not only information about a plot on the Russian President’s life but also that Salt herself is a Russian spy, she finds her loyalty questioned and her husband in danger. She proves to be a formidable opponent to her CIA colleagues precisely because of the skills that have made her so respected in her field, but her actions increasingly raise questions as to her true loyalties.
On the surface, Salt makes for perfectly enjoyable watching, provided you don’t expect too much from it other than some intense action scenes. These are where Salt’s strength lies; the scenes are well-executed and scant of CGI and thus provide a gritty realism in terms of shooting. Ironically, this realism is completely thrown out the window when you notice that despite putting herself through such ordeals as jumping from lorry to lorry on a motorway to being thrown around by men twice her size, Salt emerges from all her conflicts with barely a scratch on her. That said, it is a refreshing change to see fight scenes which don’t chop and change so much that you can’t see what’s going on, even if the protagonist is sometimes seemingly untouchable.
The premise of the film itself is interesting, but the execution of the plot is often complicated and ridiculous. For example, the entire set-up of ‘America vs. Russia’ seems completely outdated, with stale stereotypes from the Cold War of gun toting, ring kissing, vodka drinking Russians hell-bent on destroying the USA coming across as completely anachronistic in nature. While the film enjoyed some extra publicity with the arrest of ten Russian spies in the US, it doesn’t stop the entire set-up and explanation of a sleeper agent from seeming completely laughable.
Furthermore, the development of Salt’s character is sidelined somewhat in favour of the convoluted twists and turns that are clearly meant to be the main focus of the film. Flashbacks are used intermittently as an ill-guided attempt to portray Evelyn Salt’s motivations; but instead of illuminating us to Salt’s true nature, I was left confused and dissatisfied with her development. This is irritating, especially considering that the main tagline of the film’s promotional material is ‘Who is Salt?’.
Initially, being left in the dark as to Salt’s true motivations and loyalties is exciting and interesting, but eventually this lack of knowledge becomes tiresome as the film fails to give any satisfying answers. Clearly the writers spent so much time on attempting to create interesting twists and turns that they forgot to adequately portray the development of the protagonist, not to mention that we never do find out why exactly her husband is so important to her. It all seems like a poor set up for a sequel.
Jolie’s performance however, is stellar. She once again proves herself to be a fantastic leading lady for the action genre. For me, the best part of the film was her performance, which I felt relied very little on her sex appeal for once. Jolie executes her role with cool composure befitting of her character. Other notable performances come from Liev Schreiber, as Jolie’s colleague and friend, whereas other performances, such as Chwietel Ejiofor as Peabody, come across as hammy and over-acted. Salt’s husband Michael Kraus, played by August Diel who was last seen in Inglourious Basterds, is horrendously underused. Sometimes it felt as though the writers should have cut the husband sub-plot altogether, as it serves little purpose to the overall arc of the story considering the paltry amount of insight we get into Salt’s marriage.
In essence, Salt fails to make its audience take its plot seriously. While the premise itself is an interesting one, the film fails to deliver on its execution, despite its leading lady’s excellent performance. The writers are clearly angling after a sequel, but lacking in satisfying plot resolution is really not the right way to go about it.
5 OUT OF 10
All images © 2010 Sony Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.