Salt (2010) Film Review, a movie directed by Phillip Noyce and starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Pearce, Andre Braugher, Olek Krupa, Cassidy Hinkle, Corey Stoll, Olya Zueva, Kevin O’Donnell, and Gaius Charles.
Salt is a film at odds with itself: on one hand it wants to be a big budget action film and on the other hand it wants to be a clever and well-written spy film. Somehow Salt works, almost in spite of itself. A balance is struck between its two warring elements: Mission: Impossible set pieces, Paul Haggis-grade storyline.
The explosive and entertaining set pieces come and go quickly, leaving amble time for the story to evolve and for CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) to be explored. Salt’s evolvement begins with death (clarifying and resolve hardening), much like the main character in Michael Brandt’s The Double and Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption.
Death has always dominated Salt’s life. The same can be said about the life of KA-12 agent Natasha Alexandrovna Chenkova. Both of their lives became intertwined at the hands of two fatalities: Chenkova’s life began with the car accident that killed Evelyn Salt’s parents.
The strength of Salt is that the film does not tell the viewer everything. There are parts of Evelyn’s history and events in her past not on film. Perhaps this was done so the viewer would believe that Evelyn is a Russian spy, that she is an American or it was done to keep things ambiguous. In any of these scenarios, the omissions, whether deliberate or not, ameliorate the film.
Evelyn’s back-story is more interesting than ninety percent of the James Bond films. Even though Evelyn’s motivations change throughout the film and her childhood is illuminated, telling the viewer how she became the person that she is, she is no Ellen Ripley. Evelyn’s personality never changes because of the present day events within her character arc, though her motivations are certainly altered. It’s the past that is paramount.
The past is very important in Salt for it dictates what is to come and why. In many instances, the past is more interesting than the present day scenarios in the film. This is not the case when the middle of the third act is reached. Unlike Haywire, where things seem to get more trite and obsequious, all the plot strings in Salt are tied together at that point and two new ones are added.
Whether the viewer is rooting for Evelyn to be a Russian spy or they are rooting for her to be a CIA agent, the viewer finds himself or herself rooting for her.
Another of Salt’s strengths is that the road less traveled is taken many times. The protagonist loses a great deal. Look to the recent crop of spy and superhero films for the opposite scenario. In Salt, the main protagonist is charismatic and emotionally relatable. It is kept unclear what Evelyn Salt may or may not be until the second act of the film but what is always clear is that she loves her husband Michael Krause (August Diehl).
There is a straight-forward logic to almost everything in Salt, making up for the obligatory moments of over-the-top stunts, showing how unnecessary some of the “get out of jail free card” scene resolutions (e.g. the taser and the police SUV driver scene) truly are.
Unlike the open-ended finales of Hanna and Haywire, Salt not only has a solid one but introduces a question in its final moments. In Hanna, the ending is a coffin nail, the final one, hammered into place with a satisfactory crash. By the end of Haywire, its almost immaterial how the story is resolved.
Phillip Noyce’s Salt would have benefitted if it had stayed the film it was in its first twenty to thirty minutes: a modern day spy film with no Hollywood aggrandizements. The grandiose compulsion to insert them throughout the narrative should have been avoided.