Angelina Jolie-helmed action flick isn’t subtle or believable—but it is a heart-pounding summer thrill ride
[Salt. Rated PG13/100 min. 3 of 5 stars.]
Angelina Jolie stars as Evelyn Salt, a married CIA agent who is accused of being a Russian spy and, instead of trying to clear her name, makes a run for it. For much of the film, you’re left to wonder who Salt is working for, what her motivations are and how dangerous she truly is. At a brisk 100 minutes, this trim, relentlessly pulse-pounding summer ride plays out like a feature-length chase and sets up a potential franchise for Jolie, who is in top form and has found her best action movie vehicle to date.
Even with Liev Schrieber, Andre Braugher and Chiwetol Ejiofer in the cast, this is Jolie’s show the whole way. Her character is capable of astonishing feats, including leaping across highways like a live-action Frogger and eluding dozens of agents in pursuit while running barefoot.
But this is no vanity project: her introductory scene has her stripped down, beaten and covered in blood. Like Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, Jolie’s considerable presence, agility as an action star and strength as an actress make the role. She clearly did most of her own stunts, including one vertigo-inducing bit where she scales a building. I frequently didn’t buy the plot but I always believed in her performance.
Much of this is tremendously exciting, if rarely realistic. An early scene includes Lee Harvey Oswald in a re-written bit of history that even Oliver Stone might find absurd. Then there’s the third act, which takes place at the White House, and is so amusingly over-the-top and shamelessly silly, it does things even the nuttier 007 films never stooped to.
The screenplay was famously intended for Tom Cruise; after he bailed on the project it was extensively re-written for Jolie. I’m a fan of Cruise and his action movies, but casting him as “Edwin Salt” would have been predictable and redundant. Seeing the petite, beautiful and fierce Jolie pull this off is a real surprise—even with her prior roles in action films, her go-for-broke work is both satisfying and startling.
Phillip Noyce is the director and I’m a fan of his work. He helmed Patriot Games, one of the best Tom Clancy film adaptations, and one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Blind Fury, the American remake of Zatoichi, about a Vietnam vet who is a cheerful, blind swordsman. I mention these two because Salt excites as much as the former but is as enjoyably ridiculous as the latter. The expression “leave your brain at the door” doesn’t cut it here. More like “leave your brain in a jar at home.”