Aug 22, 2010

Salt

image credit: NYT
Despite insane physical hijinks, Salt (2010) is a pretty damn good spy thriller. Jolie is Evelyn Salt, a Russian mole and CIA agent. She is married to an arachnologist, which means he studies spiders for a living, played by August Diehl. Her cover's been blown. She's been accused of being a Russian spy by a Russian defector who shows up just when she's gearing up for an anniversary feast with her hubbie. The defector (Daniel Olbrychski) claims she'll assassinate the Russian president. It's a big ole mess. Who is Salt? At least, that's what the tagline asks. The director Phillip Noyce keeps us guessing and Kurt Wimmer's screenplay is taut and satisfactory. The jumbled mess keeps us interested. The story grabs your attention from the start and does not let go.


The plot has holes. There are plenty of scenes where physics and reality just do not hold. But, it's Angelina Jolie, so we can forgive it.

Jolie extracts venom from spiders. She makes a MacGyver-style rocket launcher out of plastic table legs and cleaning supplies. She can expertly dye her hair jet black. She steals convenient items for concealment almost by wishing it. A hat. Cool jackets. She looks pretty good on the ferry as a Russian tourist. She has the ability to stow a dog in a backpack and deliver it unharmed (after rock climbing on a building) to an unsuspecting little girl. She can walk away from a car wreck without being noticed. She can jump from a semi onto a rental van. She can even jump and roll from a speeding subway car effortlessly. What is it about movies that presuppose New York City subway shafts can lead to any desirable place in the city? I mean I know the famous Waldorf-Astoria tunnel shaft exists, but come on!

Even so, the fantastic stunts do not take us away from the suspense of the film. Film goers are used to putting aside basic laws of physics in order to get at the heart of a film. The film allies us with its main protagonist, and even though we are not quite sure what side she is on, we somehow seem to trust her that she'll be the good guy in the end.

Russians and Nazis are perennial bad guys in movies, so I did feel uncomfortable for yet another evil Russian plot to destroy America. I thought we were beyond the Cold War. But, I realized the film is rather pseudo-political. The plot claims to make no huge comments about current political affairs, even though the timeline of events is somewhere in the near future. The end picks up the pieces nicely. And if you're wondering, Russian moles are never black or gay. I'm not giving anything away but the partnering of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Liev Schrieber make the film even more fun.

One problem

The movie ends with the possibility of Salt II. Ugh. Another franchise. Just when we thought Mission Impossible had ended its tenure, Salt comes to take its place. So get ready for some more Americans beat Russian butt in the future. I cared enough about Salt to watch it from beginning to end with rapt attention, but I am not so sure I am ready for a trilogy.

Salt (2010)
Director: Phillip Noyce
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Released: 2010

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