No Depth of Action-Flick Flavor in Salt
- 2010 23 Jul
DVD Release Date: November 30, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: July 23, 2010
Rating: PG-13 (for language and intense sequences of violence and action)
Run Time: 95 min.
Director: Phillip Noyce
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski
The standard Angelina Jolie summer action flick is a generic retread of better work from waning genres, and Salt is no different. This Manchurian Candidate meets The Fugitive isn't so much a throwback to a Cold War thriller as it is a relic.
An extremely dull opening half-hour plods through the set-up and exposition of Evelyn Salt (Jolie), a top CIA agent willing to die for honor and country who is apparently a plant by Russian intelligence. The product of a secret U.S.S.R. program that engineers kids to become stealth assassins on cue decades later (Lee Harvey Oswald was one! Those stinking Ruskies!), Salt's proverbial switch is flipped when would-be defector Mr. Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) emerges as her old Soviet mentor.
When Orlov gives the order to carry out the first of multiple grand-scale killings, Salt is taken by surprise; she fears for her husband's life, the CIA wants to place her under arrest, and so Salt has no other choice but to break out and go rogue. I guess.
Much chasing ensues, though none of it terribly exciting. It's hard to feel any thrills when the stakes are so banal—whether they be against the targeted Russian President (who cares?) or Salt herself. She's nothing more than a stock action cipher for which none of the filmmakers—director, writer or actress—give us any reason to invest in, personally or dramatically.
Jolie's performance (to use the term generously) is a persona, not a person, and is as humorless as the film itself. A steely gaze, squared jaw and pursed (collagen?) lips may look good on a poster or even in slow-mo, but it's impossible to take seriously or even enjoy as tongue-in-cheek. Jolie hits her marks and makes her poses, but she's not having any fun and neither are we.
More importantly, her frail physique makes it impossible to buy her as a killing machine (even if occasional shots do feel like they came from a Terminator 5 audition reel); there's more fat in an organic green bean. The fear she might break in two is palpable each time she exceeds anything beyond a brisk walk, let alone a fight. To believe she can summarily take out trained military fighters one-by-one is subsequently laughable.
Various production elements try to disguise this, and fail. No amount of baggy/flowing clothes or long trench coats can bulk her up to believability (and oy, those wigs…). The shooting style is even worse. The camera constantly moves and shakes—often in tightly-framed shots—as the action ramps up, and the editing is constant. It's not dramatic, just chaotic.
One suspects the sloppy filmmaking has less to do with artistic choice and serves more as a masking device to obscure the fact that Jolie is simply not built for this. It would seem odd, after all, for director Phillip Noyce—the man behind two well-crafted Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan espionage thrillers from the '90s—to suddenly not know how to assemble an action scene. More likely, his job here was reduced to shooting around the fact that his trained assassin could stand to eat a hamburger. With cheese.
Feeble attempts are made at emotional resonance, specifically through flashbacks between Salt and her husband. The thankless role of Salt-spouse is plainly written and poorly cast. The character-actor and Jolie not only have zero chemistry, but they are also an odd visual pairing as he looks more like a scruffy Russian villain she'd maim, not marry.
Depth in narrative and theme, along with contrived turns, are equally shallow. The film has but one twist to make, and it's likely you'll see it coming long before it actually occurs. The big mystery here, of course, is who/what Salt really is and where her allegiances actually lie—with the U.S. or Mother Russia? Except that it's not a mystery, because Salt is Jolie.
So what we're left with is a monotonous cycle of running, chasing, shooting, yelling, stabbing, crashing and exploding—or some mix thereof—in the most plainly conceived ways (except for one creative bit of, oh, how do I put it—gymnastic strangulation). This potboiler is pure boilerplate. Even with the would-be rise of the Russians, Stalin-style, the most creative code name they can conceive for Phase 1 of World War III is "Day X."
Not even high-caliber talents the likes of Liev Schreiber (Wolverine, Defiance) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (2012, Children of Men) can muster much muster. Schreiber keeps hitting the same one-note of Serious while Ejiofor remains saddled with the stock conventions of a by-the-book CIA career man who must ultimately take a risk in the end (of course).
Which, speaking of the end—it thankfully comes just past 90 minutes and is shockingly abrupt. Though the primary culprit has received his comeuppance (lethally, no less), the actual conflict is entirely unresolved. Just when you expect the story to kick into its climactic act, the credits roll. Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but the crass assumption that audiences will want to see (ala The Bourne Trilogy) an extended franchise of this yawner is the film's final insult.
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: None.
- Language/Profanity: A handful of variations on the "S" word, and several uses of the Lord's name in vain.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: No sexuality, but a woman is stripped to her underwear during an interrogation/beating/torture scene. Panties are used to cover a security camera.
- Violence/Other: A lot of action violence involving stabbings, shootings, martial-arts style fights, and so on. Some stabbings are brutal, though more so in the insinuation than being visually graphic (like when a man is stabbed/killed with broken glass). The beating/torture of a woman is bloody and disturbing. A man is strangled to death.
Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla. He is also cohost of "Steelehouse Podcast," along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture.
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