USA Release: July 23, 2010
Wintergreen Productions, Di Bonaventura Pictures, Relativity Media, Columbia Pictures
Rated: USA: R
A woman is getting the crap beat out of her by torturers. Then comes their version of water torture. All through it, she insists there has been a mistake. She isn't the CIA operative they think she is, but a regular civilian working for a company.
Eventually she is released to a U.S. government man named Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber: SCREAM [all], Dean Koontz: PHANTOMS, SPHERE, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, OMEN , X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, REPO MEN), as part of a hostage trade of spies.
Yes, she really is a CIA spy (it's getting so the North Koreans can't trust anybody!). As Evelyn Salt
(Angelina Jolie: TOMB RAIDER, SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW) wonders aloud at why the "company" would go to all of the trouble to rescue one spy, Ted says, "It wasn't me, it was him." and he nods to a man standing on the other side of a bridge. Evelyn recognizes the man as her boyfriend Mike Kraus (August Diehl: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, ANATOMY 2). Ted tells her as they walk, that Mike sacrificed everything, petitioned everyone, alerted all of the media, until the U.S. Government was afraid that if they didn't step in, Mike himself would commit an international incident and attack North Korea himself.
This is SALT, by writer Kurt Wimmer (SPHERE, EQUILIBRIUM, ULTRAVIOLET), and directed by Philip Noyce (DEAD CALM, SLIVER, THE BONE COLLECTOR). SALT is an action Thriller punctuated by flashbacks because somewhere amidst all of the ridiculous, over-the-top action sequences, someone forgot that they wanted this to be a serious movie and that means character development. So all of these many flashbacks were injected to squeeze the emotion sponge. It doesn't work, but there you have it. Someone in the pipeline wanted a McG or Brett Ratner movie, but they didn't want to let either of those guys near the director's chair again. So they got Noyce, who has established himself as a decent enough director. He's not great, but he gets the job done. Unless he is directing a script by Kurt Wimmer, who is re-packaging his ULTRAVIOLET script until we all learn to appreciate it, damn it!
This time, it isn't the future, vampires, and Milla Jovovich. It's the present, Russians, and Angelina Jolie.
Salt is about to leave her job for the day when she gets called back at the last minute to interview a walk-in: a captured Russian ex-patriot who isn't who he appears to be, and has too much mystery about him. Ted reminds Evelyn that she is pretty good with this type. As Ted escorts Evelyn to the interrogation chamber, they are met by Counter-Intelligence agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor: SERENITY, INSIDE MAN, CHILDREN OF MEN).
Once the interrogation room is set (brain scans on the suspect and other devices supposed to ferret out the truth or at least lies), Evelyn goes in to meet an old man named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski).
Salt doesn't give her name, but Orlov gives away everything. He tells her a story about a Soviet plan to train hundred of undercover spies, or moles, from childhood. Some of these expertly trained moles were Russian children. Others were even American. All were indoctrinated in the Soviet Union to perform as trained assassins for a specific task on a specific date to destroy the United States. Even though the wall is gone and the Iron Curtain fell, the plan has not changed. The children are now grown and all placed in many high positions of the U.S. Government (because nobody ever noticed that we had an inordinate number of Russian orphans with top secret security clearances whose references all included a bunch of former Soviets).
Evelyn asks Orlov why he is telling her all of this and he reveals that he is dying. He no longer has anyone or anything to be afraid of, not even the truth. On the other side of the mirror, the CIA machines provide their readouts and the agents reach their conclusions. There is nothing to prove that Orlov is telling the truth, but the machines reveal he isn't lying.
Evelyn doesn't have access to the machines, doesn't buy his story, tells him so, and gets up to leave. As she opens the door Orlov says, "One of the children was named Evelyn Salt."
Evelyn pauses and admits, "My name is Evelyn Salt."
Orlov: "Then you are a Russian spy."
Naturally everything from this moment on goes upside down for Evelyn. Ted is loyal to her but wants her to behave according to rules and protocol. Evelyn can't do that because she knows, in situations such as this, that the families
of moles who don't fulfill their duty - those who have gone native - are murdered. Her husband Mike, the man who risked everything for her, isn't answering his phone.
Agent Peabody has no loyalties to Salt and wants to interrogate her as long as is necessary. Winter tries to reach a compromise but has no better luck in tracking down Mike. Orlov makes a ridiculously easy escape. Apparently when you are arrested by the CIA and taken into their most top secret security headquarters, they don't bother with mundane patdowns or the most basic, hand-held, metal detector scans. Tubby old Orlov's murderous escape, from the heart of the supposedly high security top secret CIA building, was a chokingly bad scene.
Evelyn also escapes, apparently taking out a few of her own co-workers in the bargain. Christmas parties will be awkward after this. In no time flat she is jumping from speeding semi-truck to speeding semi-truck, leaping and falling several stories from one highway overpass to the next to land on a different speeding vehicle, and all of them with hard metal roofs.
Now when James Bond does some unbelievably crazy stunt, he always has some smart-ass remark. This is to let you know that you aren't supposed to take the movie seriously, it's meant in fun. Even a director like Michael Bay gets this. Michael Bay for crying out loud! In movies like THE MATRIX and INCEPTION the severe damage that would happen to a human body is acceptable because we know the characters - within the context of the story - aren't operating in a real world.
SALT, however, takes itself quite seriously. Noyce and crew want SALT to be serious to the Nth degree. This is not supposed to be a Leave-Your-Brain-At-The-Door movie. There are no quips or winks to the audience to let us know that this movie is supposed to be fun.
Then come the twists and turns. Some of which are telegraphed twists. Who didn't see how Evelyn extracting the spider venom would turn out? Others are obvious twists. Actor Liev Schrieber has played this character so many times in other genre thriller movies like, PHANTOMS, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, REPO MEN.
Which all comes down to the question, Why were these choices made? In that case, consider the producers and their genre contributions.
Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura cost us CONSTANTINE, DOOM, DERAILED, SHOOTER, TRANSFORMERS (all), 1408, one of Robert DeNiro's biggest flops and an Eddie Murphy movie that actually broke a record for being a bigger bomb than Gigli and an even bigger bomb than all other Eddie Murphy disasters! Lorenzo has an impressively long list of other movies in the works including another Beverly Hills Cop sequel, a PET SEMETARY remake, and a SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE remake.
Sunil Perkash brought us PREMONITION, so his career choices aren't set in stone.
SALT runs the gamut through broad daylight to night time shots. Indoor shots of various degrees of light and dark to smoke filled rooms and they are all as perfect as can be. Never for a second did I get lost visually (unless I was supposed to). This was accomplished by the remarkable eye of veteran cinematographer Robert Elswit (TRICK OR TREAT , RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II, THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, 8MM, IMPOSTOR).
The soundtrack by James Newton (STIR OF ECHOES, THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, SIGNS, DREAMCATCHER, THE DARK KNIGHT), however, didn't ask for much. It didn't create mood or allow for a flow of emotion or resonance. It appeared to be a steady beat to do nothing more than keep time and tension and all seemed pretty repetitive: To the point that I noticed.
The big reveal at the end is no reveal at all and Evelyn's ability to break into various high security areas wasn't written to make Evelyn look cunning or capable. Evelyn isn't smart, she's just pursued by, or pursues, half-wits and idiots. She's also, apparently, a superbeing. When you see her bring down the combined military elite of both the United States and Russia, you wonder what the hell North Korea ever had on her.
Two Shriek Girls.
copyright 2010 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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