Isn’t it funny when reality reflects fiction? Not long ago, the idea of Russian agents living in secret in America would have seemed preposterous, the Cold War long being a thing of the past, yet the recent discovery of just that – Russian agents living undercover as American citizens – makes the whole premise of Salt all the more credible and poignant. It was certainly a convenient coincidence for the studio behind the film given that the timing of the real life discovery only slightly preceded its release and likely generated a whole new level of interest in it. Were it not for this coincidence I suspect that the film wouldn’t have proved quite as popular at the US box office as it has. This is certainly not for a lack of talent involved though. Originally intended as a star vehicle for Tom Cruise but rewritten for Angelina Jolie after Cruise opted to do Knight and Day instead, ‘Salt’ seems timed to fill the void left by the absence of a new Bourne or 007 movie although it is unlikely to be welcomed as completely as either. Director Phillip Noyce’s recent credits have all been very low key and little seen films although look further back and you will discover that he is the man behind spy thrillers such as Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, two films that demonstrate a clear knack for handling this kind of spy thriller. Writer Kurt Wimmer has a solid track record as well, his past writing credits including the likes of The Recruit, Law Abiding Citizen and Equilibrium. But does Salt fully deliver on the promise of its intriguing premise or does it prove too salty for its own good?
Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a CIA agent brought in to handle a routine interrogation of a Russian defector. Although the Agency are treating his claims with sceptical caution, he insists that a Russian spy is heading to New York to assassinate the Russian President. And then Salt is stopped in her tracks when he reveals the assassin’s name is…Evelyn Salt. Now Salt must go on the run, using all her skills and years of experience as a covert operative to elude capture by the pursuing forces of both her long time friend and colleague Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) and the distrusting Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). But even when she does get caught, breaking free from a fast-moving police car holds little challenge for an agent who is as deadly as any lethal weapon. But as Salt desperately fights to prove her innocence, her entire life story and her identity itself are called into question. Is she really who seems?
In the light of recent real life events it is hard not to find some eerie parallels between the real world and the world portrayed in Salt and this gives the film a bit of an edge that it wouldn’t have had otherwise as it makes a lot of what happens in the film scarily believable at times. Believability certainly seems to be the desired goal for much what is seen in the film and to an extent the film does achieve this. The plot isn’t too fantastical to rule out the possibility of something like it happening in real life and much of the action is also grounded in reality, even if does stretch believability a bit at times. That said, the film’s plot hits a number of stumbling blocks that prevent it from being nearly as good as it could be. As the film progresses the plot begins to become somewhat illogical, making it hard to really keep track of what is going on, a lack of clarity about Salt’s motives make it hard to figure whether or not we are actually supposed to be rooting for her – although this could also be taken as a strength of the film, as we also find ourselves questioning whether she is who she seems – a scene where Salt disguises herself as a man stretches credibility a bit too far and a twist towards the end fails to be as surprising as it should be, not helped by the fact that a certain actor has gone this particular route before in another film. This isn’t to say the film isn’t a worthwhile watch, however, as the story takes a few unexpected turns and offers up a few surprises, the plot not playing out entirely as you might expect and, while more a thriller than an actioner, there are a few decent, well staged action sequences – mostly foot chases, etc. – that provide a few thrills, if not delivering anything that hasn’t really been seen before. The film also boasts solid performances from its cast, with the versatile Angelina Jolie being suitably intense in the lead role and strong support from fellow cast members Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Evelyn Salt is not in the same league as Jason Bourne or James Bond but this film has enough going for it to make it worth checking out and enough potential to make the sequel hinted at by the open ending a reasonably exciting proposition, particularly if can follow the example of the Bourne sequels. Salt is an enjoyable and intriguing thriller that could have been great with just a bit of pepper to spice things up but, as it is, proves decent but unremarkable.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.