Should I Watch..? Salt
What's the Big Deal?
Salt is an action thriller film released in 2010 and was directed by the Australian Phillip Noyce. The film stars Angelina Jolie as CIA agent Evelyn Salt who finds herself outed as a Russian sleeper agent and goes on the run to prove her innocence. The film marks the second time Noyce and Jolie have worked together after 1999's The Bone Collector (1). The film was originally written for a male protagonist with Tom Cruise previously attached to the role. Despite a hefty $110 million budget, the film would go on to gross more than $293 million and lead to speculation about a possible sequel. However, the film received a mixed reaction from critics who lauded Jolie's central performance but derided the film's complex and convoluted storyline.
What's It About?
Two years after being rescued from a North Korean POW camp in a hostage exchange, CIA agent Evelyn Salt is about to head home to her husband Mike for their anniversary when a mysterious Russian defector turns up at Salt's office. Salt handles the interview of Oleg Vasilyevich Orlov while fellow agents Theodore Winter and Darryl Peabody sit behind the one-way glass. During her interrogation, Orlov explains that Russian sleeper agents - known as KA-12's - have infiltrated the US and are gearing up for "Day X" which will begin with the murder of the Russian President at tomorrow's funeral for the US Vice President. Despite lie detectors confirming Orlov's story, Winter gives Salt instructions to wrap things up.
As she is about to leave, Orlov then confirms that one of these KA-12 agents is called Evelyn Salt. Distraught, Salt tries to get in contact with her husband but cannot get hold of him. While Winter and Peabody decide how to proceed, Orlov manages to escape custody by killing two men. In the confusion, Salt realises that she has no choice but to go it alone - but is she trying to clear her name or complete her mission from her Russian spymasters?
Oleg Vasilyevich Orlov
Release Date (UK)
18th August, 2010
Action, Mystery, Thriller
Academy Award Nomination
Best Sound Mixing
What's to Like?
It's too easy to forget, due to the sheer number of action films released every year, that a good action film can still get your pulse racing. And Salt is technically one of the best I've seen in a while with stunt-work and set pieces more than reminiscent of that other contemporary spy classic, The Bourne Identity (2). Like Matt Damon, Jolie throws herself at the picture to such a degree that you almost begin to fear for her safety such as her jaw-dropping escape atop of a number of moving tankers on the freeway.
The story isn't one for keeping still either as you are never quite sure whose side Jolie is actually on for most of the film. There is a wonderfully old-school vibe to the picture - talk of Russian sleeper agents might seem a bit Cold War but looking at the world right now, is it that far fetched? The movie dispenses with James Bond-style gadgetry and relies solely on double-bluffs and improvised weaponry, much like Bourne does in his franchise. Films like these are finally dragging the spy genre away from 007's increasingly old-fashioned grasp and into the 21st century, becoming more believable and less ridiculous. It's a trend I'd like to continue.
- Schreiber accidentally spoiled the film's ending during an interview to promote the movie with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. He quickly realised what he said and furiously backtracked!
- The character of Salt is named after the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, held between the USA and the Soviet Union in 1969 and again in 1979.
- Filming was briefly suspended after Jolie suffered a minor head injury shooting an action scene. She was taken to hospital and released the same day, allowing filming to continue.
What's Not to Like?
In fact, the action scenes in Salt are so good that you frequently lose track of the plot. There is, naturally, an element of mystery to keep audiences guessing but come the finale, I had all but lost interest in proceedings and not because I correctly guessed who the bad guys were. This is one of those films that is technically competent and well executed but just doesn't really engage with you very much. I never invested myself in it the way I did with the likes of The Bourne Identity or Speed (3), another brilliant action film with a ridiculous plot.
There are also moments where even suspended belief is shattered beyond repair. Salt's silly pursuit of a descending elevator car is not just poorly written (she jumps across the lift shaft like a frog on a mission!) but poorly portrayed with some clunky CG. It ruins all the hard work and good will built up in earlier scenes, much like the moment when Salt is magically able to acquire latex prosthetics - where did she get them from, considering she's being hunted by her employers? The whole thing feels too convoluted for its own good with coincidences and impossible planning filling in for what could have been a decent thriller. Most action films suffer from this to some degree but I was able to notice such contrivances more easily in Salt than most other films I could mention.
Should I Watch It?
Continuing the recent trend of girls-with-guns films, Salt ticks all the right boxes in terms of action and performance. But it's the confusing storyline that lets it down - I wanted it to succeed because there is a decent premise here and potentially, a brilliant movie. But the sloppy ending lets the side down badly and considering how much was spent on it, I'm struggling to think that this was value-for-money. Salt isn't a bad film as such but it could have been properly good. File it under "Missed Opportunity"...
Great For: thrill seekers, fans of Jason Bourne, erasing the memory of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (4).
Not So Great For: plot-hole spotters, US-Russia relations, the CIA's public image.
What Else Should I Watch?
For a proper spy thriller that satisfies on every level, The Bourne Identity is the best place to start. Tense, gripping and impossible to forget, the film is a neat introduction to Matt Damon's amnesiac super-spy while the sequels continue the story in much the same vein. It also updates its Cold War-setting to feel more relevant than this does, which feels like a rejected Bond script by comparison.
Anyone wondering what Salt might have looked like with Tom Cruise in the lead role needn't worry for too long. Assuming that all the Mission: Impossible (5) movies had passed you by, Jack Reacher (6) sees him play 6' 5" hard-man Reacher in an adaptation of Lee Child's novel One Shot. Jolie, of course, is no stranger to firearms in films after appearing in the likes of Wanted (7) and Mr & Mrs Smith (8). But it's the titular video game character Lara Croft that she'll be associated with, whether she wants to be or not - neither film particularly set the world alight with the sequel—subtitled The Cradle Of Life (9) - being a series of dumb shoot-outs in a dumb script for a dumbfounded audience.
© 2017 Benjamin Cox