Friday, October 15, 2010

Review: Salt

Angelina Jolie is more likely to play James Bond than to be a Bond girl. The part of Evelyn Salt was originally written for a male lead, with Tom Cruise attached. When he dropped out, Angelina took the reigns. Although Salt is unlikely to be hailed as a memorable release of the summer season in the shadow of Iron Man 2 and Inception, this movie still deserves credit on a few levels.

One of the most irritating aspects of modern advertising is a trailer that gives away too much. An example of this would be Terminator: Salvation in which the movie’s only twist (being that Marcus Wright is in fact non-human) is shown in the trailer. Admittedly it doesn’t take a brain to figure it out early on, but it still might have been interesting to not know that going in. Thanks to gaffes like this, I thought I had a fairly good idea about what to expect going into Salt; a faithful CIA agent is named as a Russian sleeper spy and spends the rest of the movie proving her loyalty to the Star-Spangled Banner. Thankfully, someone was clever enough not to reveal everything in the trailer, and as a result, there were a few unexpected twists that kept the story rolling. Not that the story isn’t full of plot holes and very unclear character developments, but Salt clearly operates under the assumption that the major plot points and frequent action scenes will sufficiently carry the story. For the most part they do, but only to the degree that one is willing to focus on them. Allover that isn't too hard, considering the fact that every other scene is action, and the non-action scenes make it a point of highlighting the major plot points to distract from the smaller faulty ones.

Salt plays with action clichés, but does them so well that it’s somehow less noticeable. By this point in time chase scenes have little charm left for me, but I appreciate that when Evelyn jumps off a bridge onto a moving vehicle, she doesn't ride the roof while firing a weapon at assailants firmly planted on solid ground—she hangs on like any sane individual would. Despite the fact that there is never any doubt that agent Salt will escape every time, the chases are at least entertaining, albeit predictable. And instead of slinking in and out of risky situations like Mrs. Smith, she gets very bloodied up in this film, and unlike some of her other action roles, she does make jumping from one moving vehicle to the next look a little hard and even slightly painful. Overall the movie turns in somewhat original stunt work and a few forgotten action gimmicks. Furthermore, the filmmakers get praise for finding a way to make the Russians the bad guys just like in the good old days.

The action movie genre doesn't necessarily require good acting, so when it is present that can be counted as a bonus. The bonuses here are Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber.
Angelina Jolie turns in a somewhat less-than-cliché performance that is convincing as a trained rogue spy, but never betrays her womanhood. Although she is an able fighter and a conveniently excellent marksman and Olympic athlete, she loves her husband and her dog. She is a fine looking woman but I appreciate that the camera never celebrates her notorious beauty or really even takes advantage of it. The only time we see much of her fit form is in the beginning of the film when she appears in her underwear. But since she is being tortured at the time, one is less concerned with her state of dress, and more concerned with the rubber hose jammed down her throat feeding gasoline into her lungs. The always-underrated Liev Schreiber gives Salt a character to anchor the other side of the story. Evelyn is the fugitive; Schreiber’s character is her former CIA coworker attempting to understand while also trying to catch her. And as Liev Schreiber characters usually do, he has a few surprises up his sleeve.

In spite of Salt’s flaws, it wins on the level that it is 100% entertainment. Of course the situation in which Evelyn finds herself is so preposterously huge that it could launch World War III. Naturally she has a thorough knowledge of everything she could possibly need including how to extract venom from a spider. Thankfully when she takes on Liev Schreiber’s character in hand-to-hand combat she does not last long. I saw that man in Wolverine and I wouldn't have accepted the idea that Miss Jolie could beat a man that Hugh Jackman could not, but I digress. Allover, Salt is a great popcorn flick that should only be taken as seriously as it takes itself—very moderately.



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