Sunday, 29 August 2010


Fair play to Angelina Jolie: she's probably the only female A Lister of the moment who can take on the big boys at their own game. After a hasty rewrite of the new actioner Salt saw the narrative geared towards her instead of Tom Cruise, one could have been forgiven for seeing it as a publicity coup, an attempt to create a Jane Bond for the Facebook generation. Cynicism aside, Jolie is terrific: bringing that chilly, aloof quality and visceral energy to bear on a film that, sadly, is way beneath her.

It starts promisingly enough, Jolie's titular CIA operative Evelyn Salt being outed as a Russian spy in front of colleagues Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor by Russian defector Orlov (a brilliantly creepy Daniel Olbrychski). This agent, Orlov explains, has come to the USA to assassinate the Russian President. It doesn't help that Ejiofor's Peabody already fosters an ill-defined hostility towards Salt (default setting for dramatic tension in action movies) or that Schreiber's Winter appears to know less about his own agent's background than we do... but these logical gaps are mere tiddlers compared with what's coming. Harbouring plenty of emotional baggage courtesy of her rescue from North Korean torture by arachnologist husband August Diehl, Salt promptly escapes in a bid to clear her name and save him from a similar fate.

In the interests of fairness, none of the film's faults stem from Phillip Noyce's direction, which is pacy and crisp. Veteran of thrillers like Patriot Games and Dead Calm, Noyce has a firm understanding of the rhythms of suspense and can turn the screw with the best of them. The multitude of car crashes, death-defying escapes and fist-fights are staged with efficient aplomb. He's matched, in every way, by Jolie, the real special effect, as adept at scaling buildings in place of her stunt double as she is in honing her character's dangerously alluring ambiguity, which escalates as we move forward.

Then we reach the halfway point...and it all goes completely bananas. Not merely content with forging a Bond/Bourne stew, Kurt Wimmer's script ends up mad as a box of spanners, flinging red herrings, reversals and betrayals at the screen as if his life depended on it. Jolie even turns up as a man at one point before proceeding to leap down an elevator shaft like Catwoman, inconsistencies and plot holes piling up at a faster rate than the body count. It's either audacious in its stupidity...or just stupid full stop.

It desparately needs a measure of ironic distance, a subtle wink to show its late-flowering Ruskie/Commie threat is a deliberately affectionate throwback. Instead it takes itself far too seriously, and comes off worse. Thank goodness then for Jolie who makes this rollercoaster ride more layered and enjoyable than it deserves to be. Credit Salt's saltiness entirely to her; the wider feast is a derivative mess of ingredients that spoils the palate. Who is Salt? She is Angelina Jolie; and not just the character, but the film too.

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