There are few things more mindless to me than bad movies, but even a good action movie can sometimes fall into that mindless bracket. I don't dislike them with any sizable amount of vigor, but I'm often left exactly the same way I felt before watching one. A comedy can draw laughs after it's over, and a documentary can draw emotion long after the credits roll, but I stopped gushing over action scenes when puberty and CGI technologies hit. So where does Salt fall in my hyper-opinionated list of things worth my time? Forgettably above average. The best thing about Salt is that we didn't have to watch Tom Cruise do any publicity for it. Just kidding. It's the opening scene that has a scantily clad Angelina Jolie getting the shit kicked out of her. Just kidding again. I'm really not sure what the best thing about Salt is, if only for a lack of nominating factors. I will lay the prize at the feet of director Phillip Noyce for making the absurdity fun, and editor Stuart Baird gets a strong pat on the back.
Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a happily married CIA agent hoping to celebrate an anniversary with her spider-loving German husband, Mike (August Diehl), who saved her two years previous from being beaten and tortured in a Korean prison. This is not to be. She and boss/friend Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber), under Agent Peabody's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) supervision, are meant to interrogate Vassily Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), a German defector with conspiratorial information to impart. To disbelieving ears, Orlov talks of Day X, an eventual roll call for a large number of deep-cover KGB sleeper spies to come out of hiding and wreak absolute havoc on American soil. Specifically, Orlov says the Russian president will be assassinated by a woman named Evelyn Salt. Cue the orchestral hit.
To get the most out of this movie, you shouldn't know anything else. Salt is adamant about sticking to its three-act structure, and everything learned leads to something else. And honestly, the guessing game played while following Salt is one of the film's strengths, so it's damning to know too much…or care too much.
Soon after Orlov's declaration places her in a temporary holding room, Salt fully displays her spy skills by fleeing the CIA building, obsessing over the idea that her husband may be in trouble. And this becomes the entirety of the movie. Salt runs around the city looking for things while Peabody and a reluctant Winter run around the city looking for her. Is it exciting? Definitely, because it's mesmerizing watching the stunt-loving Jolie scale buildings and leg-sweep attackers. Many scenes come in for background information and show past events, but the present-day story rarely leaves overdrive once it kicks in. James Newton Howard's score lets you know exactly when you can take a breath.
That said, few of those action-packed sequences make a damned bit of sense. Most are far-fetched and used for the awe-factor rather than serving the story properly. Salt drives a cop car from the backseat by tazing the cop in the driver's seat, forcing his foot to nail the accelerator. A chase scene is empty enough without giving the audience another reason to step outside the action. And the story they're not serving isn't full enough to begin with. Resurrecting and mix-matching Middle Eastern and Cold War politics could work, when given depth and character development. Unfortunately, Salt's importance as the central character turns everyone else into a shadow, and the movie zings and zooms to its climax and dull sequel-tease ending.
I would not avoid that sequel, but I'll probably wait and watch it at home like I did here. Visually striking and well played by everyone onscreen, Salt suffers from a lack of an intelligent and complete through-line. I may have forgiven this had Salt been longer, but at just over 90 minutes, it should have been more dense. I'll say here at the end that both the Extended and Director's Cut do more justice than the Theatrical version. By no means am I saying you should not watch Salt, but I see no reason for you to ever watch it twice. Unless it's the only thing on besides Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Well, this is a righteously well-stocked Blu-ray, which seems to happen with movies I'm not fascinated by. As stated before, there are three versions of the film to watch, differing in length by only a few minutes. All are available to watch with MovieIQ, the interactive trivia track. The Theatrical cut has a "Spy Cam" feature that has occasional informational pop-ups from director Noyce and others. The director and his crew also pop in for the informative and spy-centric commentary. Noyce's father belonged to a covert alliance, so his stake in this story is driven deep, and his stories are engaging.
"The Ultimate Female Action Hero" and "Spy Disguise: The Looks of Evelyn Salt" are all about how awesome Angelina Jolie is to the people who work with her. We find out she's a really hard worker who's up for doing anything on set. And then we get to hear how fun it was to make her blonde and then brunette again. Honestly, these features are more complicated than that, but you know. "Salt Declassified" promises secrets on the making of the film, but this is just a regular making-of feature. It doesn't make it less interesting, though. "False Identity: Creating a New Reality" is even more of a fake out, though not in its name. This feature covers the enormous amount of shots in the movie that did not take place in actual environments. If something isn't talking or being held by a character, there's an 80% chance it's been invented digitally. It's amazing, but makes the movie feel cheaper for whatever reason. And then there's "The Real Agents," which has field agents talking about the sporadic realism of the film.
Phillip Noyce himself is the subject of "The Modern Master of the Political Thriller," which lets everyone on the film talk about how great it is to work with Noyce, and Noyce himself talk about why he wanted to make this film. This information is getting redundant, isn’t it? Then there’s a radio interview with Noyce that is interesting, but not original.
Unless unbelievable spy thrillers with a female lead are your absolute bread and butter, there’s no reason to buy this. When a film is more populated by stunts than brains, it’s destined for a ho-hum existence on a dusty shelf. I don’t see Salt adding any long-term spice to anyone’s plates. Rent it and move on.
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