Disclaimer: There are 3 versions of Salt. The Theatrical Cut, The Director’s Cut, and The Extended Cut … each have several differences. For this review, I watched The Director’s Cut … ’cause it seemed like the thing to do at the time.
Angelina Jolie has never exactly wow-ed me with any of her performances. I know, she’s beautiful. And she’s really not a bad actress. She’s just not exactly a fantastic one given her star power. Therefore, a Jolie-vehicle like Salt shouldn’t really appeal to me, but it did because of one word.
There’s something inherently interesting about the clandestine world that spies live in, wrapping themselves in layers upon layers of lies. I’ve run the gambit from James Bond to Xander Cage to Austin Powers and back again to Jason Bourne, and I’ve enjoyed each trip unrepentantly. As I said, I don’t dislike Jolie at all. Her presence just doesn’t automatically draw me in like other actresses would. Regardless, I was very curious to watch Salt and see how the genre treated a spy of the fairer sex.
Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) works for the CIA, is highly trained, and when we find her she is being tortured by the North Koreans under suspicion of being an American spy. Well, they’re right, but she doesn’t tell them that. That’d be dumb. She takes her abuse until one day, as part of a prisoner exchange program, she’s released. This is in little part due to the CIA, but mostly due to her husband Krause (August Diehl), one of the world’s top arachnologists. Now, I know what you’re asking … how does a German national/arachnologist have enough political sway to release a suspected American spy from a North Korean military facility?
Salt (the movie, not the person) tells you to go eat a dick for asking that question. Like it’s main character, it’ll never talk.
So, Salt continues her work for the CIA until one day a Russian named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski … do you know any of these names besides Jolie? No? Didn’t think so) shows up and says he has information about “Day X”, a Russian plan to awake sleeper agents in the United States. Salt ‘interrogates’ him, gets the intel, and is about to make her leave because it’s her and her husband’s anniversary and international security is less important than the snuggles, so, fuck it, right? Well, Orlov flings feces at her plans by outing her as one of the sleeper agents.
Her boss and friend, Ted Winter (Liev Shrieber … oh, hey, I know him) isn’t so easily convinced, but some guy named Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wants to hold her. Caress her. Sniff her underwear. Well, I’m sure he wants to do that too, but actually he just wants to detain her. I’m not sure who Peabody is. I’m guessing he’s head of security or something. I’m not sure if he’s Winter’s boss, or Winter’s his boss … the chain of command isn’t made solidly clear.
In either case, Orlov is taken into custody but starts fucking people up and escapes. Salt manages to escape from her holding room by outwitting the guards (she snaps her fingers, says she has to go to the bathroom, and leaves … your tax dollars at work, people). She seems to want to go after Orlov … I think. Either that or she decided to take the longest possible to the route to the bathroom because it involved her holding herself up in a room on a security buffer level of the building while Peabody and his gang of men try to breach the door.
Salt literally MacGuyver’s a rocket launcher out of a table leg, some cleaning chemicals, and I think a lock of Brad Pitt’s pubic hair. I’m a little confused on the last ingredient. When they open the door, she blasts them. Luckily for them, it’s not explosive … it just somehow has enough concussive force to knock everyone the hell out without killing a single one. She escapes, heads back to her apartment because, oh, she’s worried for her husband’s life and finds the place empty.
Considering this was the dumbest move she could possibly make, they obviously follow her there where once again she narrowly escapes by climbing out of the building and shimmying along the window ledges. She asks a little girl whose home alone to let her in, forever setting a precedent for this child to know it’s okay to let strangers in if they’re outside your apartment window several stories up and ask nicely.
Well, here’s where shit gets tricky. Orlov mentioned there was a plot to kill the Russian President who would be visiting NYC to attend the funeral of the American Vice President who he considered a dear friend. Salt dyes her hair and decides “It’s Game On, Bitches” … which means spending the entirety of the rest of the movie trying to confuse the audience over whose side is she on.
SPOILERS. MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILERS IN THE REST OF THIS REVIEW.
Salt manages to crash the funeral, “kill” the Russian President but refuse to shoot Peabody when he shows up. She escapes police custody, meets up with Orlov and the rest of the sleeper agents that she knew from her childhood, sees her husband and watches him die to prove that she’s loyal to Orlov’s cause … then kill him and all of the others. She then continues on with the plans of Day X, which seems to be a plan to kill the American President. Next stop, White House.
Now, of course everyone believes her to be working with the Russians and I think the Director and the Screenwriter both hoped to keep people guessing all along. Here’s the thing? It’s B.S.
Salt never once kills one of the “good guys”, always opting to stun them or knock them out. Clear give away. Yeah, she “killed” the Russian President but before that scene we see her extracting spider venom and I’ve seen this done so many times before that I saw it coming a mile away. I knew he wasn’t dead (spoiler: he isn’t dead, by the way). In fact, the worst thing Salt does is stand there and watch her husband die, which while probably a more realistic situation for a spy to be put in (having to choose national security over personal interests), it makes her look incredibly weak and incompetent.
James Bond wouldn’t have stood for that shit. I know he’s had his share of women offed, but never while he watched.*
*Editor’s Note: I’ve been informed that he, in fact, did watch his wife die in one of the few Bond films I have yet to see. Well, I’ll eat a bit of humble pie here, but I still doubt he would have watched her die slowly. Pretty sure if he had the chance to prevent it, he would have.
Another problem is that Jolie often looks bored. She starts off looking like a Librarian then dyes her hair and we’re supposed to buy her as this bad ass … but she’s too often making poor decisions. She’s a spy, I guess. I think what we’ve come to expect from our spy movies aren’t just ordinary spies though. We want Super Spies. Is that unfair of me? Perhaps, but it’s what I wanted and Salt didn’t deliver.
Now, let me explain that I wasn’t expecting a stroke of genius. I figured this would be a popcorn action flick — but even in bad popcorn action flicks, I genuinely like the hero. I find the hero to be flawed, but competent usually and if everyone would just shut up and do as they say, they’d live to fight another day. Salt was often silly in the suspensions of disbelief it asked you to make and the twists were just so boringly obvious, I don’t know what to say.
Sadly, the Blu Ray will probably make its way into my collection but only because I’m a collector. Otherwise, aside from the last kill of the movie, Salt was wholly disappointing. Angelina Jolie was better as a spy in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and I really didn’t like that movie. Some people might get enjoyment out of it and accept the huge gaps in logic and try to pretend they don’t see the twists coming, but most of you will go in looking for a dumb popcorn flick and find that you’ll have to turn your brains off a lot more than you thought to really enjoy this movie.