Reviewed in July 2010 / Click Here to Comment
Director: Phillip Noyce. Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, August Diehl, Daniel Olbrychski, Hunt Block, Olek Krupa, Cassidy Hinkle, Daniel Pearce, Olya Zueva, Vladislav Koulikov, Andre Braugher, Zach Shaffer, Zoe Lister Jones, Corey Stoll. Screenplay: Kurt Wimmer.
Twitter Capsule: Gets sillier and patchier in last act, which caps the grade, but I must say, I had a good time watching it. Nice sound mix.

Photo © 2010 Columbia Pictures
The beginning of Salt, for about 15 minutes after the nasty, torture-centered prologue, feels like chunky and insincere exposition. The last 20 minutes, starting with a badly composited sequence as Evelyn Salt makes her dangerous way down a high-security elevator shaft, feels as chintzy as an old 40s serial. The coda leaves things open for a sequel that probably isn't coming, unless directly to DVD, starring Michelle Rodriguez or Milla Jovovich. But even when the actors can't quite elevate the script, the typically adept photography of Robert Elswit, the spooky-silly score of James Newton Howard, and especially the deftly mixed soundtrack coordinated by Paul Hsu and Warren Shaw makes Salt pulpy fun, which is probably all its filmmakers desired. Better, the "Who Is Salt?" throughline offers a canny take on Angelina Jolie's enigmatic star persona as an increasingly unplaceable citizen of the world, someone we see all the time but almost never feel we understand, and from whom we'd believe almost anything.

Unquestionably best of all, even though it takes some idiotic and incoherent plotting to get there, the middle of Salt, when (spoiler) Evelyn turns out not to be trapped in a Hitchcockian "wrong man" scenario but reveals herself to indeed be a remorseless, implacable assassin of world leaders and a jaguar of steely, confident movement, is an absolute kick in the pants. It's not easy to build a summer entertainment with the audience on the side of a woman who intends to kill the premier of Russia and then the President of the United States, and not give a rat's ass in either case. Salt does buckle, sometimes rather badly, under the weight of its blurry outline and its rather unfounded sense of being awfully cool. But sometimes it is cool, and funny, too. It's about five degrees away from being an outright comedy about how things that are impossible for you and me, and challenging for the CIA or the Secret Service, are easy as pie for Angelina Jolie, who can toss a grenade or leap onto a moving tractor trailer quicker than you or I can find our way to the bathroom. Watching her assemble an impromptu bazooka out of a metal interrogation-room table is a jazzier spectacle than I've seen at the movies in months. As a surprising shot of barely diluted amorality, in which Evelyn Salt is almost bored by her outsized competence with various forms of havoc-wreaking, Salt is just pop enough not to leave a bitter aftertaste but just earnest enough to feel as though it knows it's playing with fire, and liking it. Shame about the nonsense at the front end and the dunderheaded ending, but the middle act was worth the ticket price. Grade: C+

VOR: (2)   (What is this?)
As exciting as it is to see Jolie doin' it for herself through the middle of Salt, and to know that she trumped the likes of Tom Cruise to get there, neither the movie nor the performance stands up to more than instantaneous pressure. Even when Salt is well-made, and sometimes it isn't, it has a rushed, meatless quality that won't help it to last, especially once the action-femme figure becomes, with any luck, less of a rare bird. By the same token, though, as depressing as this is to admit, Jolie's casting here does matter in the weird ecosystem of Hollywood gender-casting, though that midfilm, leonine amorality of Evelyn Salt strikes me as an even better reason than the character's gender to extend the film at least a little credit for taking a risk.

Academy Award Nominations:
Best Sound Mixing: Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan, and William Sarokin

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