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After watching this film I asked myself, ‘LMD, would this movie have been nearly as enjoyable if a man had played this role?’ ‘Heck no,’ was my answer to me.  This is one of the joys of Salt; it’s an amped up, throw-down, all-out action movie centered around its female protagonist and it’s been ages since there’s been an example of girl power as thrilling as this.

Angelina Jolie has unfortunately become better known for being a tabloid target than an Oscar-winning actress.  This is a real shame; long before she got the gold for 1999’s Girl, Interrupted, I’d expected big things from the performer with the intense, seductive presence, wry humour and Jaggerian facial features.  She could play tough and vulnerable all at once as proved in 1998’s Gia, as well as Girl, Interrupted, and seemed in demand for not only action but drama projects; but somewhere along the line things got screwy.  Her presence in Hollywood became more like a circus event than that of a believable actor.  Maybe it was playing an iconic computer game character, or the undue attention the press gave her love life, maybe it was appearing in forgettable vehicles like Beyond Borders {2003] or Taking Lives {2004], whatever, Jolie’s movie roles placed a far second in the public eye and even her turn as the bitter, wounded assassin in the excellent Wanted {2008} didn’t create a momentum that lasted.  It is then a relief to those who held out hope that in the deft hands of the venerable Phillip Noyce, Ms. Jolie has once again found her groove, playing a trapped super spy with nowhere to turn.

Evelyn Salt has suffered for her country; the opening sequence showing the slender blonde having her face rearranged and taking an unwanted sip, of water in a filthy North Korean jail gives us a peek into the life the young CIA operative has accepted.  Even her marriage to the love of her life, her gentle scientist husband, was the result of a spying operation.  Still, Ev seems at peace with her work and happy to celebrate her anniversary when one last minute assignment just screws up her whole day.  A mysterious Russian national waltzes into the CIA’s cover operation with a tale to tell. Luckily, they have a Russian speaker on hand and that would be… you guessed it.  The disheveled Red spins a yarn that seems wholly useless until he gets around to informing those on hand that the president of Russia will be assassinated, and not only is the killer in the building, but she’s the nice lady who just offered him a pack of cigarettes.  She is the shining star of a Russian experiment to train children practically from birth to infiltrate the American way of life and act as sleeper agents ready to do Mother Russia’s bidding when activated.  As would be expected of any national security agency worth their… salt, this announcement causes a bit of a panic that sends our heroine hightailing it MacGyver-style through the streets of Washington DC, first to try to rescue her now-imperiled hubby, while simultaneously trying to save herself and get to the bottom of this insanity that’s exploded around her.

Handling herself like the illegitimate child of James Bond and Indiana Jones, the beauty of Salt is in how perfectly cast Ms. Jolie is.  Previously occupied by such cinematic goddesses as Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Yeoh, it’s as if Jolie has finally ascended the action throne that’s been waiting for her but she’d fallen short of since those silly, lacklustre Tomb Raider movies.  When Jolie throws a punch, I believe it.  When she leapfrogs across the tops of high-speed vehicles on a highway to finally careen away on a pilfered motorcycle, I’m with it.  When she finesses her through a tight squeeze only sexiness can get her out of, it makes sense that it’s her.  Regal and aloof in Cossack furs or steamy and furious in black page boy and long trenchcoat (cos it’s a spy film), or warm and vulnerable as the blonde bride, Jolie is a match for the chameleon Salt needs to be and up until it’s all laid out before us, Noyce keeps the audience guessing as to which side she’s really on.

Bravos all around for the abundance of actual, honest-to-goodness stuntwork in Salt; the car crashes and hair-raising, breakneck pursuits that take us from Washington DC onto the Bolt bus to the streets of New York City.  How they were able to film some of those demolition derby scenes on the narrow highways above Astoria, Queens has got me.  Like a truly effective movie stunt, the crunching impacts look like they really hurt, as Salt, handcuffed with no way out of a police car she’s hijacked, flies off an elevated roadway headfirst into parked cars.  That feeling of being boxed in is prevalent throughout Salt and it’s part of the thrill of watching this lone woman with all the forces of at least one superpower government against her claw, run, punch, kick, shoot and detonate her way to survival.  Mentioning action deity Hamilton is also serendipitous as I couldn’t help but laugh out loud whenever a certain refrain from Salt’s score would pop up during some of the more intense action scenes that was a dead ringer for the unmistakable mechanical chugging theme announcing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s intent to commit mayhem as the Terminator.  In her seeming inability to stay hit or suffer any of the aches or pains associated with finding oneself in the midst of explosions, gun battles, car plunges or running for miles in bare feet without losing a breath, Salt is like a Terminator.  Had it been a guy playing this unstoppable creature who has never had a side stitch or shin splint in their life, I would have thrown a shoe at the screen, but Jolie sells it.  Not only because she’s believable in her handling of the role’s amazing physicality, but because you want the character to get through it.  She manages somehow to create sympathy for this killing machine, more so than many of her male counterparts in similar ‘invincible’ roles.  Because we’ve seen Jolie be only too happy to kick the bucket in other films, we don’t know how Salt will end up until all the cards are on the table -- or all the matryoshka dolls are opened up -- and that is part of the fun of Salt, an action thriller that actually thrills.

Regarding the rest of Salt’s cast; Liev Schreiber is sardonic and brilliant as ever as Salt’s once-supportive partner, who seems as mystified and betrayed as anyone once her actions give him no choice but to believe his eyes and not their long-standing friendship.  I would have liked more ‘civilian’ scenes between him and Jolie as they both share a canniness to their readings and senses of humour.  I would also love for Chiwetel Ejiofor’s agent to put him in a movie where his character actually knows what’s going on:  Once again (as in last year’s 2012), the wonderful Ejiofor plays a guy not given all the answers, but thanks to the smartly rendered script, turns this doubting Fed on the hunt for the rogue female agent into more than a cliché.  All that said, this is Jolie’s movie and without overselling it, she kicks off her high heels and runs with it.  A smart, action-packed summer blast, Salt is the film from Angelina Jolie that audiences have been waiting for.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 23rd, 2010

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Sony Pictures)

 

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