Review: ‘Salt’

Angelina Jolie again steps up to the action star plate and easily hits a triple.

At a cover company for the CIA, a Russian defector calling himself Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) walks in off the street claiming to have important information. Agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) confronts the man, trying to determine the validity of what he has to say. Orlov spins a tale of conspiracy and cold war machinations, ending with the claim that the Russian president will be killed by a covert sleeper agent… named Evelyn Salt. Knowing protocol would prevent her from doing so, Salt attempts to contact her husband to ensure his safety since her name is in the open, but when the attempt fails, Salt uses her considerable skills to exit the building before being captured. Fellow agent and friend Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) is willing to give Salt the benefit of the doubt, but Agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has a higher concern: has a sleeper agent just been activated?

With more than a hat tip to the Jason Bourne film series, Salt burns like an old school cold war thriller with a role that Angelina Jolie embodies naturally. Full of chases, fast fights, gun play, and car crunching, the question of Salt’s motivations drive the story while Jolie makes it look incredibly easy. Practical special effects are the order of the day, and enlisting a fictional sect of Russian patriots looking to restore their lost world superpower glory makes for a fresh but familiar villain to struggle against. While all of the above will get audience involved with Salt, it’s the revelation and risks the script was willing to take that make it memorable.

What a thriller like this brings to the table is a character like Salt herself. Originally written for a man when another star was attached, changes were implemented when Jolie took on the role. It’s never in doubt whether the character is capable or will survive to the climatic ending, but Jolie’s Salt seems self motivated as she reacts to each thing she must accomplish. Unlike the requisite cold expression of a determined man in a role like this, Jolie is allowed significantly more leeway to show emotions unacceptable in a male action hero without compromising her femininity or capability. As a side note, this is what’s needed to pull off a female superhero and the only way a character like Wonder Woman would ever work on the big screen.

Speaking of super human strength and endurance, there are more than a few sequences here that will have you questioning upper body strength or how long someone can be relentlessly pursued before passing out due to sheer exhaustion. Lengthy chase sequences that films like this would only be half as exciting if the average viewer didn’t imagine themselves doubled over trying to catch their breath after only a few minutes (watch the opening sequence of the James Bond Casino Royale remake, for example.) It shouldn’t be much of a spoiler that Salt is set up for a sequel or two, and if audiences catch on, it’ll be nice to look forward to future opportunities to see Jolie in her element doing what she seems to do best.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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