by HELEN GEIB
Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a CIA agent based in D.C. Her life takes a wrong turn when she is tasked with interrogating a Russian intelligence operative who claims he has information to sell. He tells a fantastic tale of children taken from their parents in infancy and raised to be spies. He says that Salt is one of those children, is a Russian mole, and is going to kill the president of Russia at a state funeral in New York. Salt runs. She says she has to save her husband, now marked for death. The counter-terrorism agent-in-charge (Chiwetel Ejiofor) thinks she may actually be a spy. Her boss (Liev Schreiber) is less eager to believe it, but joins in the chase.
The film’s Russian, deep cover spies set-up seems less like Cold War spy game nostalgia in light of current events. Unlike their real life counterparts however, the Russian moles in Salt are rogue agents, the products of a disavowed Cold War program. This may explain why, again unlike the real versions, they’re competent. Beyond competent, in fact. Competent doesn’t even begin to describe it. They’re more like the super-soldiers of Soldier (1998) (highly recommended, for those who haven’t seen it) than any real-world spies: indoctrinated from birth in absolute loyalty to their master, a resultant warped emotional-mental state, unfeeling ruthlessness in the service of the cause, and superhuman physical ability.
Is it unreasonable to want a smart plot to unfold from such an implausible scenario? A lighthearted spy romp or superficial adrenaline rush actioner would be one thing. When a sympathetic heroine is put through hell and the audience is asked to take her emotional suffering seriously, it creates an expectation that the plot will be not stupid. The third act fails the intelligence test, a flaw compounded by its humdrum predictability.
Before turning irredeemably idiotic, Salt is good summer blockbuster fun. Salt’s escape from D.C. is a thrilling highlight. There are several action sequences between the interrogation room and her bus out of town, and they’re all suspenseful and exciting. Salt has to think fast and act fast to get away, and she does both extremely well.
Jolie’s performance is solid in the dramatic parts, and she is splendid in the action-thriller that is most of the film. The publicity machine says she did her own stunt-work, and the evidence on the screen backs up the claim. It really looks like that’s her jumping off highway bridges onto the tops of semis, crashing through walls, taking down Secret Service agents left and right, and generally letting nothing stand in her way when she has a gun in her hand. Schreiber has a few good moments before his part turns thankless. Ejiofor is completely wasted, which simply cannot be excused.
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We don’t have reviews for the Tomb Raider films that got Jolie this job, but I can offer Breach, a more serious look at secrets-selling to the Russians. Talk to Me is a good movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor.