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There is a type of book that only seems appropriate to buy in airports. Typically it’s filled with action scenes, very little character development, writing simple enough that you can skim it, and it has to be something you can leave in the seatback at the end of the flight. Also, often about 50 pages in, you find yourself wondering if you haven’t read it already.
The new Angelina Jolie vehicle, Salt, is the cinematic equivalent of that book. Very little makes it stand out from other spy-espionage-conspiracy films, except its lead star.
Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is strong-willed, beautiful, inexplicably blond, and can remain tight-lipped under torture. Two years after a brief and bloody opening scene set in North Korea, Salt seems to have recovered from her time in captivity and created a life in the District with her arachnologist husband (August Diehl). After expressing an interest to leave CIA fieldwork behind, Salt takes on the equivalent of ”one last assignment” by agreeing to interview a possible Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski). She’s thrown for a loop when he implies that she’s a double agent, and she runs when the Agency turns against her.
If not for recent headlines, the plot’s throwback to the Cold War would cause Salt to feel outdated. However, the knowledge of actual sleeper agents in the States is so timely it calls into question the power of Columbia Pictures’ marketing machine.
Apart from that, Kurt Wimmer’s script is riddled with inconsistencies, and he’s forced to provide large sections of over-explanation in an attempt to piece it all together. Director Phillip Noyce only increases the film’s ridiculousness by ensuring that every stunt defies the laws of physics. Salt manages to scale buildings, jump onto not one, not two, but three moving semi-trucks, and descends an elevator shaft using moves that would make Spiderman jealous. Also, Noyce’s attempts to use flashbacks to add depth and layers to the characters is clichéd and ineffective, only serving to slow down the shaky plot.
Jolie has proven in multiple roles that she can be the badass who kicks ass. However, in an attempt to shroud Salt’s true identity, Jolie seems to shut down completely. Her interactions with others are uniformly superficial and her emotional pinnacle is opposite a puppy (no joke). Even when Salt is taking out a team of agents using only the supplies found in an abandoned office (picture MacGyver’ in a business suit), you don’t cheer for her because there’s no reason to have emotional investment in the story.
Opposite Jolie in good cop/bad cop roles, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor bring a little more creativity to their roles, but are clearly in the backseat while Jolie is driving. At some point, you’re afraid they’re going to be left in car with no windows cracked because they’re expendable and forgettable.
The most exciting part of Salt, at least for those in our region, will be watching all the scenes filmed in the District. But it’s not so much for the scenes themselves, but rather for their inaccuracies. For instance, Salt runs into the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro station and runs out of the L’Enfant Plaza station on the other end. And she flees to New York on the Bolt Bus only to check into the Mandarin Oriental in Southwest. Sure, most of the audience seeing the film won’t get this, but at least it’s a little bit of entertainment in an otherwise formulaic and rehashed story.
Alias fans in particular are going to have that ”I think I’ve seen this before” feeling, and with good reason. The television show played with all the same concepts, but did it better and made it look like more fun. So when the movie asks, ”who is Salt?” the proper answer is, ”She’s no Sydney Bristow.”