Monday, July 26, 2010

Movie Review: Salt

Salt *** ½
Directed by:
Phillip Noyce.
Written By: Kurt Wimmer.
Starring: Angelina Jolie (Evelyn Salt), Liev Schreiber (Ted Winter), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Peabody), Daniel Olbrychski (Orlov), August Diehl (Mike Krause), Daniel Pearce (Young Orlov), Hunt Block (U.S. President Lewis), Andre Braugher (Secretary of Defense), Olek Krupa (Russian President Matveyev).

Salt is an action movie that kicks things into high gear almost right from the get go and doesn’t slow down for the next 100 minutes. True, if you wanted to, you could pick apart the story for its preposterousness – but what really would be the point in doing that. This is a movie that moves so quickly, and entertains so thoroughly, that you don’t stop to think about why anyone do what they do until you’re in the parking lot after the movie – and by then you have already been entertained.

Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent working on the Russian desk. We see her a few years before the action in this movie takes place in a jail in North Korea being tortured by the guards. She is only let go because her husband Mike (August Diehl) kicked up such a stink in America that they had to make a deal and let her go. In the years since she has apparently led a much quieter life back in the States, still working for the CIA. Everything is thrown into chaos for her when Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) shows up at the CIA offices however. He claims to be Russian intelligence and is a defector. He says that a Russian spy is going to kill the Russian President the next day – and that Russian spy’s name is Evelyn Salt.

Salt’s boss Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) and a counter terrorism agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejifor) want to question her right away, but Salt is smart and crafty and ends up escaping. She says that she is not a Russian spy, and doesn’t want to kill the President of Russia, but she knows that they have kidnapped her husband. And if he would risk everything to save her, and then she has to do the same for him. She knows the CIA doesn’t give a crap about her husband, so if anyone is going to save his life, it’s up to her. What follows is a series of shootouts, chase scenes and a lot of people talking mostly by yelling at each other. Salt’s plan is so complicated that often we get lost in its intricacies, even while we think we have everything figured out.

The director of the movie is Philip Noyce – a talented journeyman director who usually does his best work when he being more serious (The Quiet American, Rabbit Proof Fence) and not when doing action (The Saint). But here, he has raised his directorial game a little bit – taking some lessons from Paul Greengrass, the movie plays a little bit like the later two Bourne movies, although Noyce does tone down the shaky camera movements at least a little bit. It has been a while since I’ve seen high octane action done this well.

Jolie carries the movie well as Salt. While I think that often times when she decides to get more serious, she isn’t capable of pulling it off, in full blown action movie mode there are few, if any, women who can touch her. Remarkably she grounds her character in a believable emotional reality, which makes it far easier for us to accept her as she runs around doing crazy stunts. She is aided a great deal by Schreiber and Ejifor, who give their characters as much depth as is possible under the circumstances, and by Olbrychski who makes a scarily believable villain.

If I wanted to, I could pick apart the movie for its plotting, a lot of which doesn’t really make all that much sense if you stop and think about it too hard. This has derailed a lot of action movies in the past. But the thing about Salt is like the Bourne movies, which are no more or no less ridiculous that most action movies, they move so quickly that during the course of the movie you don’t notice that it doesn’t make sense, and afterwards, you don’t really care. The filmmakers know that the plot is unbelievable, but they are playing to that. It helps this movie a little bit that apparently in the last few weeks the Americans have actually discovered sleeper cells of Russian spies hiding in plain sight for decades.

Salt is without a doubt the most entertaining, most high adrenaline action movie of the summer. It doesn’t reach the heights of something like Inception only because Inception is so much more than an action film. Salt has no pretensions, no delusions of grandeur – it simply does what it does better than I have seen it done in a while now. What more do you want?

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