Directed by Phillip Noyce
Take it with a grain of salt and Angelina Jolie's latest is a perfectly good popcorn thriller.
I Am Not a Spy
A photo from her Facebook page
Salt has gained a dose of relevance and perhaps a dash of plausibility from post-production current events.
It was front-page, top-of-the-hour news merely three weeks ago when 10 people were arrested and accused of being Russian spies. One of them was Anna Chapman, a hot young female with a Facebook page loaded with photos from her travels, including poses in front of landmarks in New York and London.
An eleventh spy disappeared in Cyprus – after being released on bail.
That was a cold dose of reality, reasserting the notion that espionage in the new millennium hasn't dwindled down to just a couple nationalities or religious extremists.
The 10 Russkies have since been swapped, in the relatively neutral territory of Vienna, Austria, for four western spies held by Russia. And Angelina Jolie – allegedly – has invited Anna Chapman to Salt's Moscow premiere.
Reality can be crazy enough all on its own.
But Salt spices up the fictional word of espionage with some great action, engaging performances, and Jolie's grand return to butt-kicking territory, making it the kind of outlandish hoot this summer desperately needed.
Salt moves along at a brisk pace, quickly establishing Evelyn Salt's world. Ruthlessly beaten and accused of being a spy in North Korea, she went on to marry a German she met during her stay in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Resettled in Washington, D.C., and continuing her employment with Rink Petroleum, the false front for CIA operations, all seems well enough.
Then one sinister, history-bending interrogation changes everything.
Oleg Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) turns informant and outlines a nefarious Russian plot dating back decades – even implicating Lee Harvey Oswald – that schools an entire class of spies, strategically putting them in place while they're still in their formative years. It's all part of a larger plot called Day X, which seeks to attack the U.S. from within while also targeting cities like Tehran and Mecca to stoke the flames of anti-U.S. aggression abroad.
And, while they're at it, they also want to assassinate the U.S. president.
But first things first. Oleg warns that Evelyn is going to assassinate Russian President Matveyev at a memorial service for the U.S. vice president. That accusation of future history sends Evelyn on the lam and raises all sorts of questions about who she is and what parts of her life are real, what parts are fabricated.
Angelina Jolie is Evelyn Salt
Photo: Columbia Pictures
Nobody Does It Better
Only minutes before the interrogation, Evelyn is seen struggling with napkin-folding; she's getting ready to celebrate her wedding anniversary and she wants it to be perfect.
But, when Evelyn's on the run, she proves to be one super-tough, super-smart woman. And Jolie is super-good at that.
The action sequences are terrific, with Jolie scaling the walls of apartment high rises, jumping off highway overpasses, and tunneling through the underground passageways of St. Bart's Church in New York and the White House. She hasn't missed a beat since her Lara Croft days.
One slight annoyance, though, comes in the form of expedited fashion. Evelyn has a penchant for pinching other people's clothes. Whether it's a jacket slung over a restroom stall or freshly-laundered outfits being delivered by room service at a posh hotel, Evelyn never lacks for clothes that fit just right. In that one small regard, Dr. Richard Kimble's plight was more sympathetic. He had to go all frumpy and make do with what he could rummage.
All the Right Moves
If the action style seems vaguely familiar, it's the same kind of frenetic, wall-running Parkour that kept Milla Jovovich on her toes in Ultraviolet and Christian Bale on the move in Equilibrium, both written and directed – to limited degrees of success – by Kurt Wimmer.
For Salt, Wimmer provides the screenplay, while the direction is handled by spy thriller veteran Phillip Noyce, who previously collaborated with Jolie on The Bone Collector and directed Harrison Ford in the Tom Clancy thrillers Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.
The Wimmer-Noyce pairing works well and Noyce is given plenty of fun material with which to expand his directorial vision.
The movie was originally written for a male lead, with Tom Cruise considering the role (Evan Salt, perhaps?), but the screenplay was retooled for a female lead (swap out wife for husband, that sort of thing) when Cruise passed the Salt and decided Knight and Day's adventure-comedy vibe would be a better career move. He also passed on The Tourist, an upcoming release which would've paired him with Jolie as his co-star. Instead, that role went to Johnny Depp.
At least in the case of Salt, things worked out well. It's a thrill to see Jolie back in action.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.