It’s easy to attribute the Bourne films to Bush-era America, what with their paranoid conspiracies of government agencies running amok and sacrificing American soldiers to pursue shady aims in illegal intelligence-wars.
Salt poses a question that could come from a Tea Party conspiracy-nut. Are there double agents in the fabric of American society ready to wreak havoc? Recent events say possibly. It also poses a question I’ve never thought about; to wit, is the incredibly beautiful Angelina Jolie as a blonde still the incredibly beautiful Angelina Jolie or will I buy her performance in what was once a male action lead?
Evelyn Salt is in a North Korean prison charged with being an American spy and tortured. Her husband orchestrates her release by heading a public campaign that pressures her CIA boss. Two years later, a former FSB agent accuses Salt of being a sleeper-agent who will assassinate the visiting Russian President. Counter-intelligence agent Peabody wants Salt in custody but she’s more concerned with her husband’s safety forcing her to go on the run.
Salt shares similar DNA to the Bourne trilogy dealing with a super-agent’s psychology and memories amidst a twisting narrative of action with a layer of video-game acrobatics, tightly executed and bruising hand-to-hand combat with sharp gunplay and fantastic supporting cast.
The film has a similar verve and zip whilst visually the film has a sober tone with its grey skies and wintry feel echoing Russia. Few recognisable landmarks are shown as more interest is taken in anonymous streets and building interiors which act as a playground for the characters to dash around.
It’s unsurprising that the film’s material is well-directed because the Australian, Philip Noyce also handled Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games, so we’re on familiar territory. Except Salt is much more exciting.
Whereas those films felt stately, factual and low-key (they focussed on a middle-aged office-researcher) this one is much more exciting and sexy (Angelina Jolie).
Where Salt departs from Bourne is the almost ridiculous comic-book style of events and actions. Bourne was about the conflicted central character caught up in realistic-feeling internecine agency clashes whilst struggling with foreign threats.
Salt sets its narrative charging off, but with the central protagonist’s loyalties and motivations not clearly spelt out until the half-way stage it crescendos with a stunning set of reveal and a great climax.
Tom Cruise was originally set to play Salt but declined because it was too similar to his previous films. A pretty smart decision because so many elements felt familiar but with Jolie the film becomes much more interesting simply because she’s a woman.
Videogames and movies haven’t desensitised me to violence against women. We’re used to Angelina in action-roles thanks to her performances as Lara Croft but I initially found it hard to separate her celebrity from the role which made the film’s opening tough to watch.
The opener worked as I allowed myself to become immersed in her subsequent performance. Each punch was bruising but Salt was able to use her agility and intelligence to scare and defeat men which felt satisfying and proving a true riposte to James Bond.
It’s a perfectly formed creature at an hour and thirty minutes, never slowing down and as a result maintains excitement. Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor prove brilliant counter-points to Salt with solid performances but Angelina Jolie is brilliant. Salt leaves it open-ended potentially initiating a franchise like the first Bourne film did and I hope it does get a sequel.