Film review by: Witney Seibold
“Salt” is good. It is a surprisingly well done movie. The trend seems to be, with mainstream action movies, to either depend so much on special effects and quick editing, that things like character, physics, and, as a result, thrills, are all jettisoned, or to rely so much on the story that it becomes way too complicated to follow. “Salt” is about a morally ambiguous character with unclear motivations, and the physics and story to teeter into the ridiculous, but director Phillip Noyce (who made “Patriot Games,” “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” and “The Quiet American”), and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (who directed “Equilibrium” and “Ultraviolet”), manage to keep the moral ambiguity interesting, the unclear motivations appropriately mysterious, and the physics just believable enough that you are thrilled by characters preforming dangerous stunts, rather than a bunch of pixilated animations impossibly doing inexplicable things. I have complained a lot about how preposterous and stylized some action films can be. Here, finally – and what a relief – is a film that plays by the rules and makes a wonderful entertainment.
Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is secretly working for the CIA. She is touted as a superagent, but is glad to have a loving husband (August Diehl), and a real life outside of the office. One afternoon, the CIA is visited by a cancerous old Russian man (Daniel Olbrychski) who claims to have valuable information. She and her best friend at the agency, Ted (the indispensable Liev Schreiber) are skeptical, but interrogate him anyway. He claims, right to her face, that Salt is secretly a Russian agent, who infiltrated the CIA years before. Of course his claim is ridiculous… right? Salt’s boss (the excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor) has to keep her prisoner based on the claim, but Salt, in a move that doesn’t seem to clear her name in the least, breaks out of the CIA building and goes on the lam.
What’s going on here? Is Salt a Russian agent or not? If she is, why does she keep insisting that she’s not? If she’s not, then why is she so determined to give the CIA the slip? How does the visiting Russian president factor into all this? We see her early in the film, being tortured, which means we should sympathize with her, but then, she’s clearly up to something no good. And did that guy just mention Lee Harvey Oswald? I can’t go into too much more details without giving away vital plot details.
In a film like this, the plotting walks a fine line between being a taut and mysterious thriller, and just being a big old jerk-around. “Salt” manages to keep on top of all its story elements and details, and keep such a close eye on its story, that it thankfully is the former. It still, though, manages to have some of those thrillingly implausible chases and conceits that a hungry action-junkie might crave. In one scene, Jolie jumps from the roof of one moving truck to another. In another, she dresses in drag. She falls from a helicopter, and, despite being small and thin, can still hold her own in a fistfight with men twice her size.
Which brings up another issue I’ve heard bandied about by the film’s marketing: Is Angelina Jolie a feminist icon? The character of Salt was, it is known, originally written for a man. Well, Jolie can certainly do everything that a boy can do, and the issue of her gender is brought up mercifully few times. The screenwriter even bothered to throw in a few sexy moments: early in the film, Salt has to hide from a group of baddies who have been watching her on a camera. She, very practically, removers her panties and drapes them over the camera lens. I wouldn’t say that Salt is a revolutionary character, but it’s always nice to see a girl in a role usually saved for boys.