Saturday, September 18, 2010
Director: Phillip Noyce
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl, Olek Krupa, Hunt Block, Corey Stoll
For about one third of its running time Salt is a damn good, almost spectacular, thriller. Then it's not.
Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent accused by a Russian defector (Olbrychski) of being a KGB sleeper agent sent decades before to accomplish a top secret mission ominously called "Day X" (i.e. complete world destruction).
Since this happens within the first minutes of the movie, the next hour and a half has Salt on the run, while agents played by Schrieber and Ejiofor pursue her. She goes all MacGyver and builds explosives with cleaning supplies, infiltrates top secret bunkers and thinks of her German arachnologist husband Mike (Diehl) while wearing fabulous ushankas.
The energy contained in the first part of the film is akin to J.J. Abrams superb spy series Alias, in how it builds a strong female character, hints at some heavy emotional background and provides her with badass qualities without ever reducing her to a mere male fantasy.
What goes wrong here is that director Noyce doesn't seem able to juggle every aspect of this character. He tries to make three different movies with her, one where Evelyn is a wrongfully accused woman trying to clear her name and save her husband (which gives Salt its only chance of having a heart), another where she is a fembot wreaking havoc wherever she struts. Plus another movie where she's an excuse to resurrect the Russians as America-hating villains often bordering on the ridiculous.
It's this movie that's the most troubling because its flirting with parody makes the others seem completely preposterous and incoherent.
Of course, nothing about Salt is supposed to make much sense and Jolie seems to be having a ball in the part. Besides making most of her amazing stunts her exotic beauty doesn't interfere with the insanity of the plot and we somehow still believe that someone like her would end up married to a complete nerd.
What the film fails to do is give Salt a soul and as Jolie travels seamlessly from genre to genre she does so with all the professionalism of an actor but none of the je ne sais quoi of a movie star.
For a star vehicle, this one's on automatic mode for way too long.