While I can’t say that I was awaiting Angelina Jolie’s latest outing with bated breath, I was intrigued by the fact that Salt was originally intended to be a Tom Cruise vehicle.
Tom’s waning box office pulling-power aside, this sex-swap was a smart move by writer Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium) as it gives Jolie the chance to prove that she can lay the smack-down on just as many henchmen as the boys can. Having her rather than him as the duplicitous CIA agent Evelyn Salt, Wimmer gives a fresh angle to a plot that could easily have been a boring instalment of the Bourne series. Salt also sees the welcome return of Russian villains to the cinema after a long period in which Middle Eastern terrorists were severely over-worked.
When a Soviet defector strolls into the CIA and announces that Salt is a sleeper agent who will kill the Russian president, she goes on the run. Fearing for the safety of her husband Michael, Salt sets out to find him before agents Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) catch up with her. The question of where Salt’s loyalties lie is the true source of tension and Jolie plays it cool, gaining and dismissing the audience’s trust several times over.
Schreiber and Ejiofor draw the short straws in terms of dialogue and simply run after Jolie for the entire movie without doing anything of significance. Hopefully, if the proposed sequel goes ahead, Wimmer will be able to correct this glaring oversight.
The action scenes are sharply directed and Jolie finally gets her hands dirty, particularly in the opening exchanges where she’s being tortured in a Korean prison. If that wasn’t enough, she also flies down an elevator shaft by leaping from wall to wall – it was a silly effect but added a cheesy, fanciful element to what would have been an entirely too serious movie.
Consequently the first 40 minutes are fast and furious as Salt evades her fellow agents by any means necessary but not to be outdone, the rest of the film takes a left turn and continues to surprise with some serious fisticuffs, gunplay and high-speed car chases. Admittedly, for all its skill and enthusiasm, Salt’s finale is a little over-the-top and it wanders into well-worn ground without knowing when to stop. Aside from this minor gripe, Salt is a well-directed action movie that delivers us a potential new franchise, an intriguing lead character and an exciting close to a lacklustre summer.