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Salt: Adding Some Flavor to a Dull Summer

Angelina Jolie is the best female action hero since Sigourney Weaver was playing Ellen Ripley. Her dramatic work has been fine, but every time she starts beating people up and running from bad guys, her charisma is twenty times higher. She manages to be gorgeous while also not being afraid to get dirty. She spends most of this film covered in some sort of blood and dirt, yet when she pauses to smile at someone, you can see why the other party is seduced. When have we had such a perfect blend of sexiness and badass? Salt is her best action film to date, a movie that, while utterly preposterous, manages to work on pretty much every level. Most exciting of all, it’s a thriller that actually keeps us guessing, with action scenes that actually keep us on the edge of our seat, and hand-to-hand combat that actually made me cheer. CGI is minimal, asses kicked are maximum, and with such a perfect and compelling lead, Salt is easily one of the most enjoyable films of the *pun alert* season.

No plot can possibly be revealed– only the set-up. Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a spy for the CIA, married to a German spider expert (August Diehl) and preparing for her anniversary. A Russian man named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) comes in with information for the CIA: there will be an attempt on the Russian president’s life by a Russian mole planted in America. As Salt tires of his stories and leaves, he reveals the mole’s name: Evelyn Salt. Whaaaa? Salt’s long-time colleague Ted (Liev Schreiber) is sure the man is lying, but counter-intelligence officer Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is not convinced of Salt’s innocence. Salt is immediately concerned about her husband’s safety and decides to run to try to get to him. But running from the CIA is rarely something that the CIA smiles upon. Will she rescue her husband or get killed trying? Plus, how did her name get into that Russian’s head?

Kurt Wimmer’s script and Philip Noyce’s direction take the usual action thriller and avoid the usual trap: a more amateurish film would have had a “twist ending” where Salt would be the woman that the Russian says she is. This movie acknowledges that cliche and instead deals with it upfront– her behavior is the behavior of a guilty woman, yet she’s wrecked with thoughts of her missing husband. We get all of the necessary character development, but her motives are left unclear throughout, so that even as we root for her, we wonder whether these actions are of the hero or the villain. This could have become a device that tries an audience’s patience, but Noyce’s action scenes are so engaging and every moment is so tense that we never get a chance to dwell too much on it. It’s hard to overthink a scene while balancing delicately on the edge of your seat. Here is a film that realizes watching people fight hand-to-hand combat in long shots is often better than effects-fests or movies that chop their footage to hell before reassembling them into rapid-fire sequences. If we watch Salt run down a hallway, we know we’re going to see the full combat. Plus, Salt has so many tricks, such as throwing an empty gun at a man’s Adam’s apple and using a human as a silencer, it’s hard to not jump out of your seat if you’re an action aficionado.

Then, there’s Angelina Jolie. Schreiber and Ejiofor do solid work, but this movie rests solely in her hands– she’s in nearly every shot. It’s hard for most actors of any gender to pull off the kind of gritty stunts that Jolie has to do in this film, much less a woman (call it sexist, but name the legitimate action hero women in movie history and get to double figures, I dare you). Quiet as kept, although Brad Pitt carries the reputation for being a mainstream star with a taste for the subversive, Angelina Jolie has no problem getting gritty and dirty for a film. Jolie spends a lot of time sporting unflattering hats and hair, unflattering cuts and bruises all over her face, and doing traditionally “manly” things. Plus, while most A-grade star actresses would be completely unconvincing beating up massive scores of Secret Service agents, Jolie somehow sells the whole thing. Then, in between the dirt and grime of being an action star, she’ll flash that movie star smile, and although that’s what reminds you she’s gorgeous, you realize her charm is even stronger when she’s killing henchmen and blowing stuff up. Could there be a viable action movie franchise starring a woman action star? Tomb Raider never really took off, but if Salt is any indication, Angelina Jolie is more than up for the challenge. She’s the best action star of the most fun action movie thus far this year.

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~ by russellhainline on July 23, 2010.

One Response to “Salt: Adding Some Flavor to a Dull Summer”

  1. […] McAdams, Morning Glory 9. Chloe Moretz, Let Me In 8. Natalie Portman, Black Swan 7. Angelina Jolie, Salt 6. Carey Mulligan, Never Let Me Go 5. Lesley Manville, Another Year 4. Michelle Williams, Blue […]

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