Review: Salt is Full of Stupid Action, Emphasis on the Stupidity
by Jeremy Kirk
July 25, 2010
There's a flimsiness to Sony's new political action-thriller, Salt, a feeling that, if any of the actors stomped down hard enough on the floor, they would break the screenplay into a million, stupid, little pieces. Well - it's anything but bland. That side effect of Salt seems to have carried over from the mineral. Director Phillip Noyce, when he isn't shooting hand-to-hand combat (we'll get to that in a bit), has a keen eye for action scenery. The quick-paced editing the three editors (yes, three) bring to the table sets the perfect cadence for the brisk film, and you can't ever accuse it of boring you. That and the solidity Angeline Jolie brings to her "is she a hero or is she a villain?" character should be enough to for a recommendation. But… it's not.
And, so, we go back to the flimsiness. With an opening set in North Korea two years prior that shows CIA officer Evelyn Salt (Jolie) being held captive, you just know the foreshadowing starts with frame one. We jump ahead to the present where Salt, along with her partner played by Liev Schreiber, are working their common, boring, CIA lives. In walks a Russian defector who claims to have information about a forthcoming assassination attempt. He says a Russian spy will attempt to kill the Russian president and that that Russian spy is none other than Evelyn Salt. She runs. The CIA gives chase. Lots of property damage and quick left turns, both in terms of plot and vehicular direction, ensue.
Salt has a screenplay by Kurt Wimmer, who previously tackled the CIA agent thriller with The Recruit, wholly forgettable yet oddly familiar. That film dealt with a mole in the agency, as well, and you begin to wonder just how much time the real CIA, the one not seen in cinemas or on the USA Network, spends tracking down double agents. It seems a realistic film about the real CIA would involve watching a lot of numbers being punched into a computer and a lot of staring at a hi-def monitor. That's just me, though. I really don't have any basis to back that up.
What I've never seen, though, is a group of long coated men flashing guns running after someone, male or female, down a street. I've never seen news footage of a woman leaping from an overpass onto the back of a moving semi-truck. There's never been a report that I've come across of a prison transfer motorcade slamming around the freeway and ending with an SUV ramping off the side. But, again, that's just me, and the CIA may have a nice way of covering such news reports up.
But it's not just that Salt involves itself with completely fabricated set pieces that have little to no basis in the real world. Even with movie logic firmly instilled, the fragility of the characters in the film is staggering. No one seems to act as anyone in such a situation would act. There are instances of clear negligence even on the part of Noyce. At one point, Salt - going for that Jennifer Bourne title - is climbing from window sill to window sill far off the ground. She stops at a little girl's window and asks the girl to let her in, but there's a clear shot of a fire escape right behind her. Even if that fire escape weren't exactly right behind her (perspective may have made it seem closer than it really was), I have a good feeling this woman has a fairly good horizontal leap in her. That's something that is made clear a few moments later when said overpass-to-truck jump occurs.
It's just little things like this that are strewn throughout Salt that easily take you out of any moment the film might have had. A more engaging plot may not have allowed the audience to wander so easily, but that's not about to happen. The shadowy way Wimmer writes his characters has something to do with that.
Through the first half of Salt, we wonder whether the main character is or isn't a double agent. There are hints throughout that make us wonder about all the characters, in fact, to the point that no one seems likable. We're following Salt much of the time, and Jolie gives the performance her all, but it almost seems like she doesn't even know if she is the hero or villain of the film through much of it. By the time any revolution occurs, we're just waiting for the inevitable cop out that comes with cheaply written films where the protagonist of the story may actually be the bad guy. The cop out occurs. It's lame. There's a digital countdown and a scene wherein Jolie poses as a man that result in much unintentional laughter. We all go home dissatisfied.
Which brings us to the end of the film. Spoilers aside, it has to be mentioned the way Salt ends with this notion that there will be continuing adventures. In fact, the film cuts to black and the end credits mid-scene, leaving it completely open. In the ending itself and in the buildup to that ending, you felt it headed this way, and you begin thinking about next week's episode of this Salt TV series your subconscious knows you're not watching. A sequel doesn't even seem likely, but Wimmer, going back to that Bourne well that he didn't even dig, finds it necessary to end the film as if it's a foregone conclusion there will be.
Salt has some decent action. The extended chase sequence brings a nice level of excitement to an otherwise sterile and conventional thriller. Jolie shines, Schreiber growls, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as another CIA operative hits hard then disappears for an hour. It's not a film that is completely without merit, but when looked at from a distance you see just how made of glass Wimmer's screenplay is. It's both see-through and looks as if a well-placed rock would send it into oblivion. Stupid action fun seems to be a description reserved for Summer blockbusters, but something like Salt should have known better than to aim for it. Congratulations, Kurt Wimmer. Your movie is stupid. It's full of action. But it's not that much fun. Sometimes, two out of three is pretty bad.
Jeremy's Rating: 4.5 out of 10