Salt (Review)

Who Is Salt? Do we really need to know?

Who is Salt?  I respond with another question: who really cares?  Perhaps it is my own fault for coming into Salt expecting the Angelina Jolie spy-thriller to resemble something of a female version of the Jason Bourne films; but as it turns out, I found it to be a surprisingly dim-witted and self-satisfied piece of mediocre action cinema, carried largely by the mega-star status of its lead and not in the slightest bit by it’s unnecessarily twisty and mysterious plot.  I would compare it more to something like XXX or Mission Impossible 2, offering up a repeated series of heavy action sequences that become overdrawn with characters who begin to feel invincible.  As a result, I found myself unable to sympathize with any of the key players (particularly with Jolie’s leading lady) which meant that I really didn’t care which side of the table Salt was on by the end.  This sense of detachment came to spoil much of the fun for me, causing me to remain severely distanced from everyone during the over-the-top action sequences and eliminating any sense of believable danger standing in the way of Jolie’s seemingly-bulletproof spy-heroine.

Jolie appears to channel Jason Bourne or Jack Bauer, but lacks the genuine honesty and screen presence shared by both of those memorable spy-heroes

I know this sounds hypocritical, since I’m an self-proclaimed fan of dumb action films; but Salt has the problem of believing that it is something more and marketing itself as such, which would be fine if it could only back its claims with some solid dramatic filmmaking.  But unfortunately the film falters at every key opportunity, reverting to a series of daring and unrealistic escape scenes followed by a kill-by-numbers plot that hurts its impact and lasting appeal.  Characters come and go without much consequence, and many of them end up being largely underused or wasted in the end (best example: Salt’s old childhood friend Shnaider).  Even her relationship with her husband, which seems to hold the most emotionally significant role in shaping her character, is explored largely through cheap flashbacks that hold little weight.  These flashbacks quickly become excessive – a contrived means of fleshing out her character and revealing various things about her past that are meant to develop or alter our opinion of her in the present (even though they usually don’t).

Despite these many problems, Salt is an undeniably well-shot film, and manages to look fantastic even as I wavered in and out of interest.  The action sequences are filmed in a way that is quite sharp and visceral, and Jolie herself is not hard on the eyes either.  Indeed, she looks as good or better here than she has in years, and sports a nice variety of different looks/disguises that make great use of her malleable (and occasionally androgynous) appearance.  But unfortunately for Salt, looks alone cannot save a film, especially one that doesn’t have the brains to back them up.  As a result, the film quickly begins to drudge through a swamp of cliches (the slow-mo montage of Jolie’s hyper-sexualized removal of a fake mask a-la Mission Impossible was where I threw in the towel), expecting us to simply go along with everything and nod our heads in obedience until the dramatic and expectantly unexpected final twist.  Perhaps I’m being too hard on Salt – after all, it does deliver action and thrills on the most basic level, continually outdoing itself scene after scene as far as outrageous stunt-work is concerned.   But there is still something about the film’s skewed ambitions and its empty attempts at amounting to something more that just left a bad taste in my mouth, and made me think about all the other films that have done this before in more interesting ways.

Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

Salt (2010, USA, PG-13: 100 min)  Directed by: Phillip Noyce,  Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, August Diehl, and Daniel Olbrychski.

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~ by Mark D'Amico on July 11, 2011.

4 Responses to “Salt (Review)”

  1. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character felt like an after-thought to the director, which is too bad because he had the potential to be a compelling antagonist to Salt. There’s this 45-min gap where he’s absent and then he reappears and we’re like “Oh yeah, that guy.” Very disappointing movie.

  2. You’re too easy on this movie. Its inept and crass ambitions are so thinly veiled. Just look at the three different endings on the blu-ray.

    • I know, I feel like I’m going a bit too easy on it. My initial thoughts were to give it 1 1/2 stars, but for some reason I felt like I was going too hard on it then. I’ve got to let my thoughts settle a bit. Maybe I’ll give those alternate endings a try. I’m just surprised at how much this film divides people. Ebert gave it 4 stars! I still think it’s pretty awful though…

      • I know. Others really liked it, but it just angered me. It was so lazily put together, like a bad season of 24. I think I watched the director’s cut, but can’t remember. Here’s a breakdown of the three different versions: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0944835/faq#.2.1.8 Why three versions exist is beyond me.

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