Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Salt (2010) Review

Who wrote this?

Kurt Wimmer, ladies and gentlemen, is the writer on hand here. Wimmer is a screenwriter (and occasional director) with creative ideas. Unlike many other aspiring screenwriters out there, he knows how to come up with appealing high-concepts that pull in audiences such as with the last movie he wrote, Law Abiding Citizen. The problem is that while he has nifty thoughts floating around in his head, Wimmer seems to fumble the ball whenever he actually puts the pen to the paper. His plots start off in a tantalizing fashion and pull us into the story until they have to begin resolving themselves, at which point things almost completely fall apart (case in point: Law Abiding Citizen). Salt is no different, although many of the other people that contribute to the movie help smooth over many of the rougher edges.

Plot Synopsis: As CIA agent Evelyn Salt is about to return home to her husband, a Russian defector named Orlov walks in claiming to have valuable information, causing her to hang around longer and conduct his interrogation. He tells her a story of how, during the Cold War, the Russians would train sleeper spies who could blend in with American society until the time came for them to execute whatever specific mission they were given. Orlov believes that one of these spies is planning on assassinating the Russian president on his visit to the United States. Believing the story to be a wild conspiracy theory, Salt is allowed to hand the interrogation over to her bosses, only to have Orlov name her as the sleeper agent. As Orlov is being transferred to a security cell, he escapes, causing Salt to go on the run fearing for the safety of her husband. Her fellow agents than engage in pursuit with her, unsure of whether to believe Salt’s or Orlov’s side of the story.


Salt is essentially Angelina Jolie’s female answer to the Bourne movies and the first Mission Impossble. Tom Cruise was even attached to play a male Salt before realizing the obvious similarities to his previous film. But the girl-power presence of Jolie adds a new wrinkle of freshness to this familiar story, even if the gender change doesn’t factor in that much. Given her wafer-thin figure in recent years, I have to give the costume designers props for doing a decent job of concealing it for the most part with long sleeved clothes. It’s Jolie’s simple conviction and determination that help to sell both her personal quest and ass-kicking theatrics, in addition to bringing a genuine sense of ambiguity to her character for most of the plot. For a lot of the time, the story and her strong performance actually pull off the mystery of which side she’s really on. Because the movie is so Jolie-heavy and paced like a speeding bullet by director Philip Noyce, the supporting cast gets pushed aside for a majority of time in terms of development. Liev Schreiber practically sleepwalks through his early scenes as Salt’s boss Ted Winter before finally coming to life in the second half and actually trying. However, I did think that Chiwetel Ejiofor (Agent Peabody) and August Diehl (Mike, Salt’s husband) milked their otherwise one-note characters for everything they’re worth.


Noyce, a prominent action director from the 90s who sort of fell off the radar recently, is the movies saving grace. His style here is influenced straight from his 90s output, featuring remarkably tight and slick cinematography that clearly shows off the action without resorting to many of the tics of modern action directing. Every chase and fist-a-cuff is full of tension and suspense and keeps things grounded for the most part. There are some moments that push credibility, but with the exception of a laughable elevator shaft-hopping scene, none of it is any more ridiculous than the average Bond or Bourne movie. If there’s one issue I take in this aspect, it’s that there’s so much action that character development (mostly with the supporters) has been somewhat short-shifted. Only Jolie and Diehl get much time to flesh out the people they portray, and most of that is attributed to their skill as actors rather than how they are written. And believe me, by the time things start wrapping up during the conclusion, some extra clarity in the character motivations could have gone a long way.

This is because while the first half or two thirds kept things intriguingly mysterious and taut, throwing a great plot turn into the mix at one point, the third act essentially goes the way of Wild Things where plot twists begin mounting to absurd proportions. By the way, I really like Wild Things, and the endless plot twists only add to its gleeful camp appeal, but in Salt the tone is very serious and the increasingly implausible plot doesn’t gel. It also doesn’t help that most of it seems to be made up as it went along without much regard to what happens before. A lot of the stuff makes very little sense in context, but at the same time I just sort of went with it because no matter how dumb it got, it was still very entertaining and Jolie’s intensity kept me involved. So in that kind of shut-your-brain-off way, Salt is absolutely a recommendation, but for those that are actually paying attention to what’s transpiring onscreen, a rental would be more like it.


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