“Who is Salt?” The ads for Salt both asked and answered. Salt was obviously the title character of the film Salt, here played by Angelina Jolie, but I guess on an existential level who she is, is still up for grabs. Evelyn Salt is a secret agent, but it turns out that she might be a mole for the Russian government, and that leads her superiors (including Liev Schrieber and Chiwetel Ejiofor) to freaking out, and trying to catch her. But the problem with catching spies is that they are trained to avoid such situations. Phillip Noyce directs this Bourne-riff like the craftsman of action he became in the 90’s. That’s both the film’s greatest strength and weakness. My review of the Blu-ray of Salt follows after the jump.
Jolie stars as a secret agent, but one that’s got a husband and a regular life. She’s about to go home when a man shows up to defect. He says he has information about traitors in their midst, people set up from childhood – like Manchurian Candidates – set up to go off when triggered. Of course he implicates Evelyn at the end of his speech, and she runs to get home to her husband, but doors start closing, and she’s got to use her secret agent skills to get home. But we still don’t know if she’s corrupt or not. From there the film twists and turns as Salt tries to evade her captors, and either possibly protect or assassinate the Russian president.
From a script from Kurt Wimmer, the film seems of two origins. One is the 1990’s, in the sense that this plays exactly like one of the mindless action films of that era (many of which were directed by people like this film’s director Phillip Noyce). There’s a lot of crosses and double crosses in the middle of the action, but nothing that every keeps the film from feeling like it’s spinning plates because you know the framework of these movies, and this feels like a film that could star any person capable of doing action, be it Wesley Snipes, or Charlie Sheen, or Tom Berenger or Jackie Chan. The film keeps putting Jolie’s character in the shit, and it does have some interesting twists and turns, but because she’s our leading lady how dark it can get is already pre-determined. That said Wimmer and Noyce have be given credit for pushing against the boundaries of this sort of film as much as they can.
But also the 90’s nature of the narrative suggests that one of the people she’s working with are the real enemy of state, and that’s going to be revealed later (and Noyce should be given credit for when showing the children in training there’s at least one black kid so Chiwetel Ejiofor can’t be written off immediately). But films like this reveal a certain sort of math, which is that if an actor has a higher billing but spends much of the film being genial and with nothing to do, then the possibility that they are the bad guy increases dramatically, just as the dude who’s acting like a douchebag at the beginning may yet have a change of heart and is usually the only person that the main character can trust.
The other thing this reminds of is The Bourne Identity, which this comes across as a cheap knock off of. But where the first film in that franchise got a lot of mileage out of the way it was basically a super-hero movie, this doesn’t have the same kick when Jolie reveals she’s capable of dealing with the threats around her. She is, and the film gets by on having a number of well staged if absurd action set pieces. None of them are such a great triumph that it makes the picture a must see, there no piece that elevates the film, but it’s consistently competent and reasonably thrilling throughout. It’s not much of a recommendation, but it’s good airplane reading, as it were. The pages turn, the end result is nothing more than modest satisfaction.
Which is funny then, because the Blu-ray has three cuts of the film. There’s the theatrical cut, an unrated director’s cut, and the unrated extended cut. The main difference seems to be the end, with the extended cut having a different wrap up. The theatrical cut is more of a sequel setter-upper. The film comes with a PIP mode for the theatrical version, and a Phillip Noyce commentary track for all cuts of the film. Noyce is a good commentarian, and he’s engaged throughout, while the PIP footage is mostly EPK interview excerpts. Then there’s a pile of featurettes: “The Ultimate Female Action Hero” (8 min.) says nice things about the film’s leading lady, “The Real Agents” (13 min.) talks to real spies, “Spy Disguise: The Looks of Evelyn Salt” (5 min.) talks to the costumers, make-up and hairstylists, “The Modern Master of the Political Thriller: Phillip Noyce” (9 min.) gives the director love, “False Identity: Creating a New Reality” (7 min.) talks about the genre’s tropes, “Salt: Declassified” (30 min.) is the main making of, while Elvis Mitchell’s interview with the director on his show “The Treatment” (27 min.) rounds out the set.