The producers of Salt had two bits of good fortune on their side: The first is that Russian spies have been in the news lately, otherwise their film might’ve seemed like a dusty Cold War retread.
The second is that Angelina Jolie agreed to play the titular role of Eveyln Salt. Without her, Salt is a fairly routine action film. With her, it’s a summer film to be reckoned with.
We’ve all seen the trailer, with its delicious hook: A Russian whistleblower is being interviewed by a CIA operative. He says that a Russian double agent named Eveyln Salt is about to assassinate the president.
“I’m Evelyn Salt,” says the operative.
“Then you are a Russian spy.”
Great set-up. And from there, Evelyn is on the run—to protect her husband? To kill the president? Is she one of us? One of them? Who cares when it’s Jolie—speaking Russian, kicking Ruskie butt, and looking damn sexy in the process.
Directed by the talented Phillip Noyce, the film clearly has a huge Jason Bourne jones. But while Salt has a similar propulsive energy—it moves like a bullet—the individual set pieces aren’t as slick or giddily elaborate as in the Bourne films. What’s more, Salt’s skills, while impressive (you’ll love what she does with a pair of handcuffs), are often far-fetched. We can see Jason Bourne’s brain working as he orchestrates a daring but plausible escape; Salt jumps off things a lot, defying death.
Still, I’m always looking for the elusive role that allows Jolie to exploit her enormous movie star presence. Salt comes close, especially when Jolie puts on a fur hat and goes all Ninotchka on us. It’s a fast-paced action thriller with a bonafide movie star in the lead. And with apologies to Cameron and Tom, it’s the best of its kind of the summer.