Title: Salt (2010)
Director: Phillip Noyce
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Lieve Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Recently, in my review for Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead (1995) I mentioned that action films with female leads in them often times fail at the box office. And this is a very common thing that happens, there are many, many examples I could name. I attribute this box office phenomenon to the fact that Hollywood doesn’t put much of an effort in making good action films with female leads in them. It is only when a gifted director steps in and makes a good one that films with females in the lead succeed. Good examples of this are James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films (2003), and most recently Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted (2008). It seems Angelina Jolie is the current poster girl for successful female action leads, and to be honest, I think she’s damn good at it. Case in point: her most recent film Salt.
Salt is the story of American CIA agent Evelyn Salt. When a Russian defector ends up under the custody of the CIA, his confession involves a story about these Russian sleeper agents that were trained to live life in the United States, infiltrate a high position in the government and then proceed to kill a Russian President, giving then Russia a valid excuse to throw a full on attack on the U.S. Other plans include the assassination of the American president as well. The CIA agents listen to the defectors confession only to be shocked by the last part of the story. You see according to the defector the sleeper agents name is Evelyn Salt! Suddenly, the CIA (once Salts employer) is now after her! And so she runs putting all her secret agent know how into trying to escape the clutches of the CIA. Will she ever get down to the truth of things?
So unexpectedly, I ended up really loving this movie. In this movie Angelina Jolie is the perfect female action lead! The actress playing the lead in an action film has got to portray equal parts sexiness, and equal parts toughness, and both are qualities that Angelina Jolie excels at. Salt was a film that was originally written to star Tom Cruise in the role of Salt. Back then the film was going to be called Edwin A. Salt. But, Cruise backed out because reportedly, he thought the character was too similar to what he’d done in his Mission Impossible films. This sounds like total bullcrap to me because he didn’t make Salt, but he went out and did Knight and Day (2010) which strangely enough plays out a lot like Salt. Knight and Day also ended up being about a guy who worked for the government but is now running from them. So it seems to me like Cruise simply had a case of “creative differences” with the creative team behind Salt and decided to go and do a similar film his own way; which apparently meant getting Cameron Diaz to star beside him instead of Angelina Jolie. But whatever! I’m glad Cruise ended up backing out of Salt; I don’t think I would have enjoyed the movie as much. To me Jolie makes the movie. Plus, Knight and Day is the lesser movie of the two. Salt has got gravitas, while Knight and Day feels completely hollow. Audiences also chose Salt over Knight and Day because while Knight and Day flopped, Salt was a huge box office success.
Thematically, the film is extremely subversive; it starts out with Jolie as the CIA agent, working for the U.S. government. She’s good at her job, faithful to her country ‘fighting the good fight’ as they say. Problem comes when said country suddenly doesn’t trust her anymore and she becomes public enemy number one. So her loyalties are no longer to her country, which turns on her at the flip of a switch, but to herself and her survival. This is a theme that’s been popping up a lot in modern films, the idea of cutting ties with old ways of doing things, and starting things anew, with a new perspective, one that doesn’t adhere to tradition. In this film, Evelyn Salt encapsulates that feeling of wanting to cut with everything. It even has a violent streak to it, where this letting go of ones past is a difficult and violent affair. She hates those that have used her and wants nothing to do with them anymore and she’s willing to kick some ass to prove it.
The chase and action sequences are really well achieved, credulity defying as they maybe, they entertain. The film plays out a bit like the action you would see in one of the Bourne films, the Bourne films being the new template by which all modern action films are being made. I tell ya, those Bourne films are really important action films. They redefined how action films are being made today. Even the Bond films look like a Bourne film now. Salt is influenced by that style of Bourne action. The action doesn’t feel too over the top, it feels more realistic then say, the kind of action you would see in an 80’s action film. And speaking of Bond, a while back, Jolie was offered the opportunity to be a Bond girl, an offer which she respectfully declined saying that she’d rather play Bond herself. I guess that’s what she was determined to do in Salt, play the indestructible secret agent. Salt was directed by Phillip Noyce and expert in political intrigue films like Clear and Present Danger (1994) and Patriot Games (1992) so in that sense he was perfect for directing Salt.
My hats down to Mrs. Jolie, she’s gotten my respect back. I love the kind of action films she’s been making lately. You guys ever seen Wanted? Highly recommend that one as well. Actually I’m kind of late in the Wanted bandwagon since I’m pretty sure practically everyone out there has seen it. Me? I underestimated it and never got around to seeing it until a couple of weeks ago. I got my ass blow out of the seat by it! Looking forward to more high caliber action films from Angelina Jolie, my new favorite action heroine.
Rating: 4 out of 5