Funny story: I was going to spend a majority of this review comparing Salt to 1997’s The Saint, a Val Kilmer spy movie in which he plays a master of disguise. The humorous part is – unbeknownst to me until just now – Phillip Noyce actually directed both movies. I guess it all makes sense now.
A brief bit of background: this film was initially conceived as a starring vehicle for Tom Cruise, but when Cruise dropped out and Angie jumped in, it was rewritten for a female in the lead role. Watching Salt, the Cruise connection is obvious; it’s thematically similar to many of his other works (the old “agent on the run” story), and there’s even a motorcycle scene through the streets of Washington, DC. Kurt Wimmer – who directed the really slick Equilibrium and wrote the middling Law Abiding Citizen – wrote this script, and it’s clear to me that he’s a more talented director than writer.
In its new form, Salt aims to be Bourne for the female persuasion. The only trouble is that the politics and motivations on screen aren’t nearly as interesting as the Matt Damon franchise; here, the stakes seem too low for the audience to care. A comically trite scene involving nuclear launch codes seems by-the-numbers instead of suspenseful, and story elements similar to those in “Fringe” and Conspiracy Theory (with shades of the MK-ULTRA Program) felt so overplayed that the film – which only ran and hour and thirty-nine minutes – seemed to drag way longer than its running time would indicate.
The acting was sufficient all around, but I’ll put it this way – if these actors or actresses win any future Academy Awards, clips from this movie won’t be included in the highlight reel. Jolie was incredibly convincing speaking Russian, and brought a palpable intensity and sense of determination to her character that helped her keep my interest for most of the time she was on screen. Schreiber had a consistently good Southern accent (unlike Peter Saarsgard from the recent Knight and Day), but has given much better performances in the past. Chiwetel Ejiofor, one of my favorite working actors, seemed like he was trying but didn’t have much to work with on the script end of things.
In a film like this, I’m fine with ridiculous physics and unbelievable action sequences. This is an action movie, after all, and if John McClane can get away with insane moves, so can Angie. The set pieces are so preposterous that they seem almost like a parody of the genre at times, but the rest of the film is played with a straight face – so it becomes kind of awkwardly obvious that they aren’t kidding. But like I said, it’s easy to get past those moments because they’re such a staple of the genre. Sequences in which Salt leaps across the tops of moving trucks on a highway or jumps wall to wall down an elevator shaft can be overlooked and enjoyed as simply coming along with the territory.
Speaking of genre, Guillermo del Toro once told me (not me personally, but a bunch of us at Comic-Con last week) that he only enjoys genre films if they subvert the genre or works entirely within them. Straddling that line makes them completely uninteresting, and since Salt definitely works within the action thriller spy genre, it’s a totally fine movie. It’s a bit predictable, but it’s enjoyable enough and provides some entertainment during yet another summer of sequels and reboots.
There haven’t been any plans for a sequel announced yet, but I’m actually more excited about seeing a sequel than I was about watching this film for the first time. The ending clearly is clearly a set up for more installments, and since the character motivations were only revealed during the final few minutes, I’d be interested in seeing a film where I can actually relate to the heroine for the duration and where she has a clear cut goal in mind. The ending – and this could be considered a minor spoiler – actually reminded me of the end of The Dark Knight, and just as I’m eager to see how Batman handles his predicament at the end of that film, I’m eager to see Salt handle her embattled position in a sequel if one ever makes it to theaters. Until next time…