Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Improbable as it may be, with her pin-thin arms, slight physique and unearthly beauty, Angelina Jolie is probably the most credible female action hero to hit the big screen since Sigourney Weaver made her debut as Ellen Ripley in "Alien." Something in the way she sets her face speaks of an attitude that says she means business, and it's that attitude that carries a movie that might otherwise sink under the weight of a plot that is not only fairly absurd, but out-of-sync with modern politics. Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, the film's namesake, a CIA agent who has been accused of being a KGB sleeper agent raised within the Russian machine to infiltrate the American intelligence community. A mysterious Russian defector by the name of Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) sets events in motion when he abruptly walks into the CIA and proclaims that Evelyn is a Russian agent who is planning on murdering the Russian president while the foreign leader is in the United States to attend a state funeral. Fearing for her husband's life, Salt chooses to go on the run to ensure his safety as well as try to clear her name. Initially bewildered, Salt quickly switches to super-agent mode and leads the CIA on a furious chase that has her scaling high-rise apartment buildings and jumping from freeway overpasses onto oncoming semi trucks. The first third of the movie has a very "Bourne Identity" feel to it and I spent a good thirty minutes sure that it was going to be a Bourne clone. But the flashbacks we see in this particular movie take us on a different path entirely and we're not left wondering whether or not Salt actually is a Russian agent or not (though I won't spoil the movie by revealing that twist here). The murder of the Russian president isn't the endgame, but just the set-up in a series of events that are designed to instigate a war that will ultimately destroy the United States. And the ultimate mystery is whether Salt is really working for or against the U.S. "Salt" has the sensibilities of a movie written during the Cold War, which is odd given that Russia hasn't been the top contender for movie villains in awhile. The storyline recalls the era of thrillers that featured children raised by shadowy organizations to unquestioning loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice themselves kamikaze-style on demand. For good measure, they even throw in the old-school nuclear threat. And yet, somehow, the movie is pretty entertaining. Angelia Jolie is one of those actors that can take sub-par material and make it seem much better than it really is. Like I said before-- attitude is everything. Though much of what keeps the movie flowing are the action sequences. Jolie isn't the buff action star and one complaint I've had in the past is that she looks like she'd break if she really landed a punch. Call me crazy, but I notice things like that. So I actually appreciated the fight choreography of the film as it often has her launching herself off of walls for added leverage-- it's flashy for sure, but almost makes you believe you'd feel if she hit you-- and she does plow through the opposition. Like most action films the stunts stretch the audiences credulity but if you're the kind of person that doesn't flinch when Bruce Willis walks along the wing of jet as it is in flight-- as in "Die Hard 4,"-- there's nothing here that's going to raise any eyebrows. The violence is also often brutal and Jolie ends up battered and almost ugly in a few sequences-- almost. Jolie is the centerpiece of the film and the focus of virtually every scene. The only other actor that has a profile worth mentioning in the film is Liev Schreiber, who stars as Salt's partner Ted Winter. Schreiber is turning out to be a darn fine actor who manages to steal a scene or two from his showy co-star with understated confidence and he definitely adds a layer of credibility that prevents "Salt" from turning into the mess it could have been. "Salt" was clearly intended to set up a new spy franchise for Angelina Jolie and it may have succeeded in doing so despite strangely incoherent story devices-- like the powerful political pull Salt's husband has as an arachnologist. Uh, okay. Reviews have been mixed, mostly due to such holes in the plot but realistically it's no more unbelievable than your average James Bond film. And honestly, despite all the flaws, I liked Jolie as "Salt" more than any of her other roles. Yes, I liked her in "Tomb Raider," but Evelyn Salt is a darker, more interesting character. So I say bring on the sequels. I'll give them a chance for sure and keep my fingers crossed that they tighten up the storyline in future installments.