Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from other movies.
Who is Evelyn Salt? That’s the question at the center of the new Angelina Jolie film Salt, an action-intrigue heroine-on-the-run movie directed by Phillip Noyce and co-starring Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The movie follows CIA agent Evelyn Salt as she is accused of being a Russian spy who has infiltrated the agency with the intention of bringing about “Day X”, the day that will see America destroyed. On the run from her fellow agents, who want to track her down and bring her in for questioning, Salt now has to prove her innocence…that is, if she was ever innocent to begin with. But can a movie really succeed if the audience never knows whose side the protagonist is on? Read on to find out!
The fugitive protagonist film formula is nothing new. We’ve seen it done well (The Fugitive, Minority Report) and we’ve seen it done poorly (Paycheck), but Salt is the first example of this formula that I can think of where, throughout the film, we’re lead to constantly question the allegiances of the main character. In the case of The Fugitive, there’s really no question as to Richard Kimble’s innocence. In Minority Report, the crime that John Anderton is being accused of hasn’t happened yet. In Paycheck, Jennings has lost his memory, so who knows whose side he was originally on, but for the duration of the movie he’s a good guy. In the case of Salt, however, we know that Evelyn Salt is not who she appears to be, but we’re only ever given hints as to whether she’s on the side of good or the side of bad. Because we’re never told the whole story, or fully allowed to get inside the main character’s head, I was left feeling a bit alienated by the movie. It’s entertaining and diverting, but I found that by being restricted from connecting with Evelyn Salt on an emotional level, although I was intrigued by how the plot was going to unfold, I didn’t really care about her at all. I was invested at first, since the film’s opening twenty to thirty minutes imply that she is innocent of the accusations laid against her, but all of that goes right out the window once the filmmakers start hinting that she really is a KGB double-agent. After that, I didn’t know who to root for, and it made the movie feel kind of hollow to me.
But the point of Salt isn’t actually the intrigue as to whether Salt is a KGB double-agent, or whether someone really is going to attempt to incite Day X and destroy America. These plot elements are utilitarian in nature, included to give some stakes to the movie, but on the whole they’re rather unimportant. We know that America isn’t going to get destroyed – it never does in this kind of movie – and we know that whichever side Salt is actually on, she’s going to spend the movie kicking a lot of ass. The point of Salt is the action, pure and simple, and in this respect the movie shines. While I never found myself particularly invested in any of the plot developments of the film, I was really in to the action sequences. Salt takes its action movie cues from the old school of action cinema. There’s little to no shakey camera work, no prolonged hand-to-hand fighting matches, just explosions, gunfire and chase scenes. And while it will never measure up to classics like Die Hard, Salt does manage to set itself apart from many brainless action movies of recent years by having a plot that doesn’t really have any holes in it when you think about it afterwards. There are a few instances of over-the-top hilarious action, though, such as when Salt tries to shoot through a wall using a machine gun and four clips of ammunition.
Or when she makes a grenade-launching potato cannon using a fire extinguisher.
Or the bit where she infiltrates a meeting with the president while wearing a ridiculous latex mask.
But Salt isn’t a bad movie. It didn’t blow me away, but there’s enough here to enjoy. I like Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, so the performances are good, and like I said, the action is a cut above a lot of movies (if only because the camera is steadier than usual here). But in the end, the film’s reliance on keeping the viewer at arm’s length from its protagonist means that the action sequences, while thrilling, aren’t nearly as edge-of-your-seat as they could have been had we been allowed to connect with the character of Salt. Salt is an enjoyable action film with a plot that actually stands up to examination once you know all the facts, but the brainteasery nature of the story gets a bit tedious sometimes, and it isn’t a particularly memorable movie. Rent this one on a rainy afternoon and you’ll have a good time.
3 out of 5