Salt Review

poster from the Columbia Pictures film Salt

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Salt for a while. Angelina Jolie kicks ass and I really like Liev Schrieber and the trailer made it look well plotted. I almost didn’t go this week, though. I was so tired from helping my dad pack his garage that I didn’t know if I had the energy to get into a high-octane action-thriller like Salt. But the intriguing storyline:

A CIA agent interrogates a Russian defector who informs her that she’s a Russian sleeper spy tasked with killing the president, which turns her former co-workers against her and sends her on the run.

…made me too curious as to how it would all turn out (I call that a marketing success) so of course I went. And as cool as the trailer made the plot seem, it actually misleads you into believing it’s simpler than it really is. So allow me to review Salt for you in its full complexity.

No spoilers, this time. That Inception thing was a one-off.

When I say the plot is complex, I don’t mean confusing. Nor do I mean that it’s difficult to guess what’s going to happen, even though it was supposed to be. I guessed the plot twist at the end about two minutes into the movie and I knew my guess was right about ¾ of the way through the movie because it was the only explanation for her actions. Most of you won’t guess, though. It’s only because I see too many movies and I can’t turn my brain off that I did. Sometimes I wish I could turn my brain off. That’s not to say I wasn’t kept guessing, because although I knew (or had guessed) what she had to do, I couldn’t see how she could possibly pull it off.

Evelyn Salt is trapped from the Columbia Pictures film Salt

Uh huh. See? Now you got yourself trapped. What are you going to do now, Missy Moo?

It was also really exciting to watch. Kurt Wimmer is a good action writer. He knows when to stomp on the gas and when to slow down and give us a break. There’s nothing really original about his action setpieces (no blimps or giant helicopter magnets or anything), just your standard car chases and gun fights for the most part. But this is a movie that takes itself more seriously than, say, The Losers, so they couldn’t go too nuts. It’s pretty much Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) on the run, where it’s up in the air as to whether she’s looking for her oddly unattractive husband Mike (August Diehl)…

August Deihl, who appears in the from the Columbia Pictures film Salt

Angelina Jolie married this guy? Yeah right.

… or trying to kill the president. Her former pals Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber), along with most of the CIA, FBI, and local police forces, are after her, on account of they have to assume it’s the killing the president one.

Peabody and Winters from the Columbia Pictures film Salt

Peabody has no first name, like he’s a museum or a rock star or something. He’s the Cher of American Counterintelligence

How the Russians, led by defector Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) fit into it all is anybody’s guess for most of the movie, so let’s just call them the catalyst for the big chase.

Evelyn and Orlov from the Columbia Pictures film Salt

Oh, and BTW you’re a Russian spy.

You’ll notice that the Russians are back as the bad guys for this movie after having spent almost 30 years on the action movie sidelines due to them being such a non-threat since the collapse of Communism in the early 90s. They barely even had enough money to pay the Kremlin electricity bill after the all the communist kleptocrats siphoned the country’s coffers into their Cayman Island bank accounts on their way out of power.

Their financial situation hasn’t changed, but everyone’s getting tired of war/action/spy movies and games involving Middle Eastern terrorists, so the cool kids who make the Modern Warfare games decided to go retro and use the Russians again and now Salt is following suit. The issue of where they got the money to fund the KA-12 super sleeper spy program is conveniently never discussed.

In fact, Salt is so retro that most of the modern technology in the film is just expensive background decoration. There’s nothing the characters use in this movie to further the plot that couldn’t be replaced by a clunkier device from the late 1980s.

the interview room from the Columbia Pictures film Salt

My high tech brain-scan-o-meter (aka fancy polygraph stand-in) says he’s telling the truth!

It makes me wonder if Kurt Wimmer wrote this script during the Cold War, only to have is shelved when the wall came down and dusted off again when the studio was running out of ideas.

It’s actually kind of refreshing to see spies doing things the old fashioned way instead of conveniently locating their quarry with satellites and GPS trackers and stuff every time things are moving too slowly.

Evelyn reads a map from the Columbia Pictures film Salt

Oh my god, is that a PAPER MAP??

Everything flows and the characters’ actions seem as reasonable as you can get in an action movie. I only have a couple of complaints about the movie (apart from the fact that I could guess the end).

I would like to write a letter to Phillip Noyce (and Hollywood directors in general) that goes something like this: “Dear Phillip, steadicam is your friend.” I’m so tired of the whole shaky-handheld-camera-in-action-scene-closeup style of direction (otherwise known as the Paul Greengrass method).

Evelyn rides a container truck from the Columbia Pictures film Salt

I realize jumping onto a moving truck would be a jolt, but do you really need to give me a frigging headache?

Luckily Noyce doesn’t use it exclusively, or I’d have had to hurt him.

Then there’s the really lamely hilarious part where Noyce and Wimmer try to ratchet up the tension by slapping countdown timers and status bars onto devices that wouldn’t normally have them.

lame status bars

which is so beyond clichéd

The ending is also maybe less satisfying than a lot of people are going to be hoping for. It’s almost like they forgot they were making a theatrical feature, because it ends like it’s a two-hour pilot episode for a TV show.

But the bottom line is that I was entertained and excited and intrigued by Salt, even though I thought I was too tired to be. That’s all you can really hope for when you pay $11 to go to an action movie, so if you’re looking for an action movie to see, choose Salt and you’ll have some fun.

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