Action-thrillers are the best. They’re so entertaining. Add a little espionage to it and it’s even better. These movies are so good because the typical formula is a strong motivation in the mind of the main character and the endless capacity to carry out their plans. A really good thriller will hide that character’s true motivations and sweep us into the action. Obviously, I’m thinking about Salt (2010), there, but there’s also The American (2010), Duplicity (2009), and others. So long as our confusion is outweighed by the incredible action, then the movie will be a success.
CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) was caught and tortured in North Korea. She’s returned with the help of her hubby (August Diehl). Just when she gets back, she and friend/partner Ted Winters (Liev Schreiber) get a visit from a defector Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski). He says he has information about an attack on the Russian president in New York City. He says the name of the sleeper agent sent to kill the president is named Evelyn Salt. “My name is Evelyn Salt,” she says. He says that Salt, actually a Russian, is the daughter of a chess grandmaster and trained wrestler. Counterintelligence officer Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is there for the interrogation, wants to get Salt locked down and sort this stuff out. Well, that’s tricky because when Orlov escapes (with the aid of a boot knife), so does Salt. The action-packed road show thus begins. Who is Salt? What the hell is going on?
What I like about this movie is I’m thinking “Wait, what?” about once every twenty minutes—and I’ve already seen the movie! Usually that’s not a good thing. Usually it means that the story is needlessly jumbled and probably hiding a really stupid premise. That’s not the case here. Okay, the premise does include a massive Soviet-era conspiracy coming to fruition over twenty years after the fall of European communism and some might call that stupid because of its improbability. Well, so is a spider bite turning you into a superhero, but you pick your battles.
You can be improbable and ambitious, but you can’t be improbable and petty, I’ll draw the line there. Salt is definitely ambitious. There are approximately four major twists in the movie that come almost exclusively out of the blue. And yet, oh and yet, someone actually complained that it was predictable. They’re lying–the use of foreshadowing does not make something (pejoratively) predictable. I was astounded when I read that.
I suspect the problem to be one of vocabulary. I for one find my analysis very hard to express when I talk about thrillers. They’re fun and exciting. But the excitement is delivered in what seem like conventional ways. But, then again, most anything can be described in basic, conventional ways. Boy meets girl, for example. But that hardly expresses anything about the movies it might be applied to.
Can you tell I feel defensive about Salt? I shouldn’t. It’s a decently received movie. It should probably be more highly regarded than that, however. The plot is definitely windy and the scheme (in the movie) so very ambitious. Everyone uses the words crazy, inane, wild to describe it, but I think its beauty is that it isn’t any of those things. The villains have concocted a large-scale plan and we’re seeing it unfold. The plan itself is, when you have all the facets in your hand, rather straight forward simply requiring a large number of agents to find their way into the predetermined roles. Delicate, but it’s not unaided human flight.
So, when you get rid of the “inane” label, you’re left with execution. I think the acting in this is pretty darn good. For a thriller, it’s fantastic. Jolie is a highly ambiguous character and she plays it perfectly. She doesn’t play it as an ice queen or automaton, but like a damn fine spy achieving her goals. I’ll also point out that this is, like Haywire (2012), another excellent female action role. I was going to say something like “Girl power!” or “You go girl” but I think those statements are just patronizing admissions of female innate inferiority, which I reject. They’re also think they’re idiotic.
The direction, by Phillip Noyce, is good, I guess. I can’t say there was many situations that called for real ingenuity on his part. The writer, Kurt Wimmer, has some pretty strong credits to his name (though some are undeniably duds). The director, Noyce, on the other hand, helmed a large number of mediocrities with some decent successes—and that’s counting The Saint (1997), a movie I really liked, as a success. So, I’ll give the temporary credit to Wimmer. Reading about all the re-writing that occurred on this movie, it’s hard to say who it actually belongs to.
There are two other versions of the film, compiled by Noyce, that alter the order or composition of the movie. After reading those synopses, I highly recommend to anyone who has any tendency towards believing in the unmitigated wisdom of the director to take a look and reassess those views. Noyce, it seems, had a vision even more improbable than the one that made it into the theatrical version. It sounds like the plot of a Modern Warfare video game. That’s not a good thing.
The movie has an obvious set up for a sequel. Some people find that objectionable on its face, but I think those people should give me a break. Those are the same kinds of people who bemoan the Hollywood tendency of tying things into neat little bows. Well, resolve that paradox if you can.
I really want to see a Salt II. For historical purposes. But something stupid might happen like Jolie invading Pakistan and the movie might not even happen. Freaking Brezhnev.
Final point. I don’t think the delta signifies an “a” sound. That was JV.
It’s well worth buying.