DIRECTOR: Philip Noyce
Salt. The trailer looked rubbish, dated and starring Angelina Jolie, was never going to tickle my fancy. Reminding me of Rodger Donaldson’s, Kevin Costner starrer, No Way Out, I felt that the attempt may be to bring that 80’s thriller to a new audience but instead we got a very confused tome. Firstly, I will cover the good points, which start with the script.
Though heavily flawed and mired by poor dialogue, pacing and a schizophrenic narrative, it was clearly intelligently conceived and several neat twists, though generally predictable, had survived. And besides the music, that’s about it. In the end, this is a film with little identity, seeking to confuse the audience and bring them into the complex world of double agents and apocalyptic doomsday scenarios.
The story begins with Evelyn Salt, who after being released from a Korean prison and being brutally integrated as a spy, married her “Cover” husband who we believe she actually loves, in spite of the fact that he is being used as the aforementioned “cover”. Then, 2 years later, she is brought into interrogate a Russian defector who tells her that she is a sleeper agent whose mission it to kill the Russian Premier, which she vehemently denies and goes on the run to prove her innocence and protect her husband…
Sounds pretty straight forward so far… But after about half an hour, everything shifts as she assassinates the Russian President, dons a Russian hat, meets up with the defector and watches her husband drown before her eyes to prove her loyalty to her brethren of sleeper agents. Then, she murders ALL of them! She meets up with another sleeper, breaks into the White House, blows part of it up and ends up in a room with a “master agent”, a key player from earlier in the film and completely predictable twist, with a dead U.S. President and a nuclear countdown ticking…
The main problem with this isn’t the outlandish plotting but the fact that we never really know who Salt is. She starts out as a normal CIA agent, who is then placed under suspicion of being a Russian sleeper, then she ‘s on the run and until this point were satisfied that she’s being set up, but then she is not only guilty, thereby destroying all the character development of the first act, she’s a VERY guilty and clearly a bad guy.
Then she is forced to watch her husband die to prove her loyalty, only to promptly kill those who murdered him, so really, what was then point? This was a man whom she was wanting to save at all costs in the opening 30 minutes but when she finds him he’s left to die.
Then she commits an outlandish assassination of the Russian Premier, or does she? But by the time she’s making her way into the preposterously defended nuclear bunker, I simply don’t like her, or really understand what the hell she’s playing at? And without the empathy for the titular character, there’s little going for the film.
This is an ambitious project but fails to engage with me, as Jolie is a truly terrible leading lady in my opinion, and casting her in such a duplicitous role was a mistake. Even if a character changes allegiances, we still know who they are but this is not the case here as Salt seems to have a split personality with little explanation.
And the final point must be that if Russia had trained a band of sleeper agents this skilled, this lethal that they could not only infiltrate the U.S., but fight their way into the heart of the White House’s Nuclear Bunker, I believe that the Cold War would have heated up a long time ago and that we’d all be speaking Russian too!
A real shame that what could have been a pretty effective Cold War thriller was allowed to descend into an unpleasant and non-empathetic watch.