REVIEW: Salt, Angelina Jolie Deliver the Action-Packed Summer Blockbuster Goods

Movieline Score:

Salt ReviewSomewhere midway through Phillip Noyce's exhilarating, over-the-top yet strangely modest action-thriller Salt, Angelina Jolie, as on-the-run CIA agent Evelyn Salt, ducks into a ladies' room to dress a nasty-looking flesh wound -- with a maxi-pad. It's an elegant and ingenious solution to a sticky problem. But then, Salt is a do-it-yourselfer, a resourceful spy who has been trained by the best. She can fashion last-minute weapons from common household items (fire-extinguisher flamethrower, anyone?) and leap off overpasses onto moving semi-trucks with the grace of a lemur (a creature that, with her wide-open, smoky-rimmed eyes, she somewhat resembles). Salt could surely, as an old perfume commercial -- borrowing straight from Peggy Lee -- used to say, bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan. But who'd want to watch that?

Like its star, Salt is a spare and lean piece of work; it's everything a modern action movie should be, a picture made with confidence but not arrogance, one that believes so wholeheartedly in its outlandish plot twists that they come to make perfect alt-universe sense. The story -- the script is by Kurt Wimmer -- draws numerous outrageous loops, but Noyce neither dwells on them ponderously nor speeds through them in a misguided attempt to energize his audience. And he makes fine use of his star, an actress whose lanky gait is as delicious to watch as her spring-loaded leaps are. Noyce frames the movie around Jolie's finely tuned sense of movement, and yet it's her expressiveness that anchors the story emotionally: In an old-fashioned, old-Hollywood way, Noyce and his cinematographer, Robert Elswit, are wholly alive to her face and all its possibilities.

The movie opens with a flashback, jolting us back to early-2000's North Korea. A semi-naked Salt is being tortured by soldiers in a dank-looking dungeon. They keep insisting she's a spy; she keeps repeating, with unwavering authority, "I'm not a spy, I'm a businesswoman" -- movie shorthand for "Of course I'm a spy, you nitwits." Shortly thereafter, our bruised and battered heroine is freed as part of a deal with the U.S. government; her colleague, Ted Winter (played by a sly, sharp Liev Schreiber), escorts her away from that North Korean prison and toward the man responsible for getting her freed: Her arachnologist love interest (played by German actor August Diehl, who also appeared in Inglourious Basterds), the man she'll later marry.

Cut to present-day Washington, where Evelyn Salt has scaled back her spy duties to focus on things like learning fancy ways of folding napkins for her upcoming wedding anniversary celebration. Suddenly, a badly shaven Russian defector named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychksi) shows up at her workplace, ready to spill secrets. He reveals a nutso plot hatched years ago, designed to restore Russia to its former glory as a superpower, in which cute tykes are trained as tough little superspies who will eventually grow up and infiltrate the U.S. government from within. (We see these wee tots in flashback, wearing matched stripey shirts and respectfully kissing the ring of their feared and beloved spymaster as they're being indoctrinated into the church of spyhood.)

Although Salt is openly dismissive of Orlov's revelation, it clearly rattles her, and her boss, Peabody (the always regal Chiwetel Ejiofor), begins to wonder what the hell is up. Schreiber's Winter, on the other hand, defends his colleague and close friend. And Salt knows, as we do, that something terrible is about to happen, and she races back to her apartment to change clothes, jury-rig the aforementioned flamethrower, and make sure the family dog is safe, approximately in that order. Then, as any sensible person would, she climbs out the window of her pre-war apartment building, clinging to its stone lintels like an extremely glamorous spider-monkey; it's the first of numerous feats of derring-do that also include jumping onto the tops of several fast-moving vehicles and beating the crap out of a crew of leering baddies.

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Comments

  • scott says:

    Apparently it is. But I wish it wasn't. More balanced critiques on the part of the "Editor in Chief" would go some ways towards quelling that annoyance. But then again, it wouldn't be as maddening and fun now, would it? And her reviews wouldn't gain nearly as much attention to sate her lonely ego.

  • Trace says:

    "For her review (gee what a surprise that an Angelina Jolie starrer gets an unqualified rave from Stephanie - gosh darn it, never saw that one coming!!) praises Salt for all the same qualities she derided Inception for having: an unbelievable plot set in an "alt universe,""
    ...that's not what she derides Inception for.
    " "outlandish plot twists,""
    ...she bashes Inception for using plot twists as a means of advancing whatever retarded homilies Nolan feels like boring us with. Salt's "outlandish plot twists" are in service of actually advancing the plot and character development.
    " over-the-top images which equate "awesomeness" with "greatness,""
    ...the only slightly over-the-top image Salt has is Jolie jumping on a truck. Inception has Paris folding in on itself, a van falling off a bridge in extremely slow motion, and a zero-gravity hotel room fight.
    SZ uses the word "modest" to describe Salt for a reason. There's hardly anything over-the-top about it, ESPECIALLY when compared to Inception.
    "paper-thin characterization, etc., etc."
    There was arguably more characterization here than in Inception. And the best part is that Salt has a genuine personality and shows a different range of emotions, rather than Dom Cobb's range of pained to slightly less pained to really pained.
    " No use trying to find consistency and fairness in a Stephanie Zacharek evaluation. Read between the lines and she's basically excusing Salt for containing the exact same elements she found objectionable and tiresome in Inception."
    Wrong again, Chris. I prefer to read the lines themselves, because that's whee the text is, which means I'll actually learn something. You should try that, too.

  • Chris says:

    Your constant embarrassing ass-kissing of Stephanie is truly embarrassing by this point, Trace. Give it up. You've failed to make a single convincing argument. The only people convinced by what you say are people who are already militant, unyielding Zacharek fans.
    *There was arguably more characterization here than in Inception. And the best part is that Salt has a genuine personality and shows a different range of emotions, rather than Dom Cobb's range of pained to slightly less pained to really pained.*
    There's more to real criticism than simply asserting over and over that something is true. What evidence do you or Zacharek provide for this assertion? None. This is precisely why Zacharek fails as a critic. All she can do is claim that one movie features better characterization, another one worse. But she can't provide a shred of evidence for this. On the contrary, the one example of really precise description she provides is this
    *The movie opens with a flashback, jolting us back to early-2000’s North Korea. A semi-naked Salt is being tortured by soldiers in a dank-looking dungeon. They keep insisting she’s a spy; she keeps repeating, with unwavering authority, “I’m not a spy, I’m a businesswoman”*
    Which is a total cliche! The only time Zacharek is specific in her descriptions, she ends up describing scenarios that are the epitome of cliched. Therefore, epic fail for Steph, and epic fail for you.

  • Trace says:

    "There's more to real criticism than simply asserting over and over that something is true. What evidence do you or Zacharek provide for this assertion? None. This is precisely why Zacharek fails as a critic. All she can do is claim that one movie features better characterization, another one worse. But she can't provide a shred of evidence for this."
    Well, I could write in grave detail every twitch on Jolie's face as she emotes, but other than that, you'll have to see the movie. But of course, seeing as you couldn't be bothered to see the obvious differences in execution AND concept for Inception and The Matrix, my guess is that you're not really into that idea.

  • Mike says:

    The bigest bullshit I ever saw.So many mistakes in one movie.Just for dements and idiots.

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