After her uninspired acting in the tedious Wanted, I was leery about seeing Angelina Jolie in another action film, though I loved her as Laura Croft in Tomb Raider. She’s back in fine form in Salt, however, as tough CIA field agent Evelyn Salt who is forced to flee the agency to clear her name after being accused of being a Russian sleeper spy.
Salt works for Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) and is married to arachnologist Mike Krause (August Diehl), who knows she’s a CIA agent but ignores the ever-present danger, focusing instead on hunting spiders for the Smithsonian.
Salt opens with Jolie prisoner in a North Korean detention camp, being beaten and tortured to force a confession that she is indeed a CIA spy. Sound like Quantum of Solace? It’s very similar, and we flash forward to present day, but then bounce back and forth in her timeline as the story unfolds.
In many ways, Salt feels like a Bourne film, with bursts of action and violence followed by expository passages, punctuated by unbelievable escapes from FBI, CIA, the police, and just about everyone else possible. Perhaps The Bourne Identity meets Tomb Raider, by way of MacGyver, as Jolie often accomplishes ingenious and amazing feats with everyday objects. It’s an exciting ride and it’s a pleasure to see Jolie this tough in the title role.
There’s a half-hearted attempt to portray Salt’s domestic side in a scene where she’s watching a YouTube video on folding napkins so that her anniversary dinner will be “perfect”, but that’s quickly forgotten once Russian defector Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) shows up and accuses her of being a Russian sleeper agent.
Counter-intelligence agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) listens to the accusation with great interest — he already knows there’s a mole in the agency — and tries to capture and question Salt even as she fights her way out of the agency office and then away from the pursuing agents.
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Liev Schreiber in “Salt”
There’s a chase scene in Salt that ranks up with the best action sequences I’ve ever seen on the silver screen, with Jolie sprinting through traffic and leaping from the top of one truck to another. Not in the obviously-CGI manner of The Matrix Reloaded, but in a gritty, thrilling sequence that is incredibly well done. Coupled with her escape from the agency office facility, these two action sequences alone make the film worth seeing.
Still, it’s hard to have a movie where the Russians are bad guys in a post-Cold War world, particularly when it’s set in contemporary times, not back in the 50s or 60s, and that might be one of the greatest weaknesses of Salt. There’s a nod to the Middle East and its threat to world security, but by that point in the film it’s a throwaway moment and irrelevant to the plot.
Orlov (Olbrychski) leads the evil Russian usurpers hoping to initiate World War III (though we never learn how they think they’ll survive the nuclear holocaust), starting with a Russian sleeper agent program called KA-12, climaxing with “Day X”, a plan to start the next world war. The program dates back to the early 1960s and includes the Russians replacing Lee Harvey Oswald with a Russian agent called “Alec”. I always suspected something…
Logical plots are not a strong point in most action films, and Salt is no different. It’s not a terrible storyline, but it’s the action sequences, it’s wondering how Salt will escape the latest predicament, that make this a film worth seeing. If you’re not a fan of fast cuts, loud music and action film tropes you might feel a bit let down by the film. Otherwise, go see it. It’s darn exciting!