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.
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.