a critiQal film review Salt (2010)

Plot: As a CIA officer, Evelyn Salt (Jolie) swore an oath to duty, honor and country. Her loyalty will be tested when a defector accuses her of being a Russian spy. Salt goes on the run, using all her skills and years of experience as a covert operative to elude capture.

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  • ...while it's previews showcased a typical "innocent-on-the-run" premise, the actual storyline has this action pic aiming higher - and achieving less.

Angelina Jolie is back in another action flick this summer in Salt. But will Salt be as hot as Wanted (2008), or is Angelina not as infallible in action pics as we’ve been led to believe? We couldn’t wait to find out. So, despite being incredibly short of cash this summer (and therefore missing most of the films we wanted to see), we just had to go see Salt in theaters.

In a role originally intended for Tom Cruise (as Edwin A. Salt), Angelina Jolie plays tough-as-nails action heroine Evelyn Salt, in the action sequences, with a little less of the flair viewers have come to expect from her in this type of film. As the film continues, however, it brings the motives of the character into suspicion, and Angelina falters a bit. Just as the viewer isn’t quite sure where Evelyn’s loyalties lie, it’s occasionally apparent Angelina doesn’t either, and doesn’t quite know how her character should react under different circumstances.

Sadly, Salt once again brings an uninspired performance from Liev Schreiber. Viewers may have been hoping the recent scene-stealing intensity he showed as the feral Sabretooth in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) would leak through in his later characters but alas, that’s not the case, and he once again sinks into his normal “ho-hum” acting style viewers have seen from him in far too many films.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, aside from Angelina Jolie, seems to be the only actor who really gets into his role. Spending his time racing after Evelyn Salt, who he really only knows from what he reads in her dossier, he is constantly sporting a look that combines both a grudging respect for his quarry and a slight note of panic she may continue to evade him. His actions seem to center on that combined respect/panic combo, and the viewer will relate to him easily – even while rooting for his quarry, Evelyn Salt, to continue to evade him.

Where Salt differs from other action films is in it’s desire to provoke a distrust of it’s central character. While the storyline starts off as seemingly nothing more than a case of false accusation, it quickly evolves into something that causes the viewer to begin questioning Salt’s motives as much as her pursuers – if not so fervently. While this seems, at least on paper, to be a good idea, the way it actually plays out leaves a bit to be desired. Rather than keeping the viewer tuned in to find out what Salt’s actual motives are, it does nothing but distance the viewer from the one character they thought they were supposed to be rooting for. With that distancing growing as the film progresses, the viewer will find even the impressive action sequences flowing together in a sort of blur as they concentrate on which side they should actually be rooting for.

The action sequences, thankfully, are top-notch. As Salt executes a narrow escape through downtown city traffic – complete with leaping onto moving trucks and driving pell-mell on a motorcycle – director Phillip Noyce makes sure the viewers feel every jarring landing and narrow escape the seemingly nigh-indestructible Salt experiences, and viewers may find themselves holding their breath a bit after every daring leap by Salt. After that impressive sequence, however, the action sequences become muddled together by the Salt’s questionable actions, and viewers will feel the impacts of the stunts less and less the longer the film continues.

The film starts out well, with a decent setup leading to an exciting escape – first from Salt’s office, then from her pursuers through traffic-clogged streets. But, even that escape seems to be started by questionable actions from Salt, and the viewer’s expectations of the film start to fall by the wayside.

While it’s nice to see Phillip Noyce trying to deliver a more intricate action film than is typical, the viewer may find the normal “innocent-on-the-run” plot the film originally presents may have been more entertaining than the route the film actually ended up taking. After all, it’s worked so well so many times in the past, it probably would have worked out at least as equally well this time around.

Instead, the film tries to bend the action flick rules a bit, and while the creativity is appreciated, the viewer just is never quite convinced there isn’t an alternative explanation for some of the actions taken by the supposed “heroine” of the film – and thus will probably see the plot twists coming from miles away.

Thanks to a solid beginning and a decent – if slightly flawed – performance by Angelina, a better-than-expected performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor, and a hard-hitting action sequence to kick off the chase, Salt still manages to have some entertainment value, despite the viewer’s mistrust of the film later on – but I’d recommend waiting for the DVD to check it out. It’s not quite the big movie event we were hoping for.

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