Friday, July 23, 2010
Movie review: Salt
If we must experience apocalypse, let it be delivered à la Jolie.
Reviewing Salt is a dangerous business for any self-respecting scribe. First, there's the very title of the film, which lends itself to all manner of (theoretically) clever aphorism play, such as:
Pass (or don't pass) this Salt!
She rubs Salt in their wounds.
Jolie's performance is particularly well-seasoned.
... that sort of nonsense. Further, given the manic, non-stop action orientation of the film, one is sorely tempted to drag into the light of day a hoary series of descriptive phrases from the overused vocabulary war chest. Adjectives such as "nail-biting," "adrenaline-charged," and "white-knuckled" are in danger of being employed (RESIST!, says my higher poetic nature. RESIST!), as is the broad categorization "roller coaster thrill ride."
One modifier I think it's O.K. to employ here is "ludicrous," which is the best way to describe the feats of physical daring and unlikely escape engineered and enacted by Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) over the course of the movie. Beginning with a car chase that finds her leaping onto various trucks from various overpasses not once but several times, things just get more ridiculously superhuman as we go along.
But here's the bottom line: if you check your brain at the door and let yourself be carried along on the crest of director Phillip Noyce's breathless, well-orchestrated action sequences, you're going to have one Hell of a good time.
Much of the credit for this goes to Jolie, whose ruthless, athletic, indefatigable portrayal of Soviet/American special/double agent Salt is a delicious pleasure to watch. I found her to be the most stylish and compelling madame of mayhem since Anne Parillaud as La Femme Nikita.
What we've got here is a plan to destroy America. Refreshingly (if somewhat implausibly), scripter Kurt Wimmer presents us with an institutional villain from vintage Cold War spy story days, when the Soviet Union was our most feared antagonist. Seems there's a band of sleeper agents in place in the U.S. in all walks of life who have just been waiting for "X Day" to unleash their destructive plot. And undercover CIA operative Evelyn Salt may be one of them. (It's a certainty that Lee Harvey Oswald was -- according to Wimmer's script, that is.)
When her cover is blown, Salt undertakes the first of many daring escapes, in the course of which she will be hemmed in by a series of slamming Get Smart security doors. She then pulls a classic MacGyver using household chemicals and the center support tube from a handy office chair. To exit the building, she shoots out the glass pane from a window (wait a minute... weren't they all barred at one point?) and leaps from the second floor to the ground without apparent osteo trauma.
Oh, and she does all this barefooted, having kicked off her not-so-sensible heels at the first opportunity.
Arriving back at the apartment she shares with her arachnologist husband (what -- you don't have one?), Salt finds evidence to indicate he's been forcefully spirited away. She quickly unearths her hidden cache of trade tools (pistols, extra mags, C4, spider in a jar... huh?) before hot-footing it out of the premises, with the CIA -- led by her trusted associate and station chief Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) -- hot on her tail.
I mean, trail.
The rest is a series of adrenaline-charged (d'oh!) shootouts and bone-shattering hand-to-hand takedowns interspersed with various security-perimeter penetrations and high-value target extractions, featuring Salt as a one-person wrecking crew. It's with abundant panache and transcendental self-possession that she struts -- in pouty-lipped, steely-gazed, operatic slow-motion -- down the central catwalk of a barge on the Hudson, hands dispensing grenades to either side as explosions bloom like sudden gaudy flowers behind her. If we must experience apocalypse, let it be delivered à la Jolie.
The makeup artists assigned to this production had a tough row to hoe: early on, they are charged with making Jolie appear to have bruises and swollen eyes as a result of beatings administered by those axis-of-evil North Koreans, to the point where she actually looks unattractive. (A remarkable achievement, Mr. Caglione!) Then, during the climactic, world-in-the-balance showdown at the White House, they sort of succeed in making her look like a man. (A very effeminate man, but still...)
If you don't know who the REAL bad guy is by the time of the big reveal, you will have been paying even less attention to the proceedings than I'm recommending you do for maximum enjoyment. (I mean, really, casting department: Get a clue, would you?)
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR: "I don't want to be safe. I want to be with you." - Salt's arachnologist hubby Mike (August Diehl)