Meet Evelyn Salt. She’s rough. She’s tough. She can kick anyone’s ass. She has no qualms about killing. She’s the star of her very own action film, the appropriately named “Salt.” And as it turns out, it’s one of the best films of the summer. It doesn’t measure up to the originality of Inception or the emotionality of Toy Story 3, but it’s light years ahead of nonsense like The A-Team and Prince of Persia. Why? It’s actually exciting, the action sequences are very well-choreographed, and there are plenty of surprises during its slim 95-minute running time. Plus, there’s Angelina Jolie in full on ass-kicking mode. That counts for something, too.
Salt (Jolie) is one of the best intelligence agents around. She survived a North Korean prison camp, and she’s now considered one of the agency’s biggest experts on Russia. When a Russian man comes to the agency with information about a mole, Salt is the first agent on the scene. But when the man says the mole is Salt herself and that she is going to kill the Russian president, she is forced to go on the run. She soon learns her husband (August Diehl) has been kidnapped, and even her closest ally at the agency, Ted (Liev Schreiber) is against her. She’s public enemy number one, so where does she go? New York, where the Russian president will be speaking at the U.S. Vice President’s funeral. But is she going there to prove her innocence or to complete her mission?
The key to “Salt’s” success is the main character’s ambiguity. It’s pretty unclear for much of the film whether or not the main character is a spy, and even when the film answers that question, her motives are still a mystery. That allows the film to pull the rug out from under you on several occasions. And unlike most films of this nature, the twists don’t feel forced. They are important and exciting parts of the story.
The real reason why people will see “Salt,” however, is to see Angelina Jolie kick some ass. And boy does she ever. It’s not an emotive performance. She doesn’t break any acting barriers. She’s just really bad-ass. And it’s a blast watching her. Solid, if unspectacular, supporting work is provided by Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Salt’s colleagues and August Diehl as her adoring husband.
I also appreciated “Salt” for its exceptional camerawork. Director Phillip Noyce and cinematographer Roger Elswit thankfully keep the camera still during the action scenes, making them infinitely more enjoyable than most modern chases. Even beyond the action, though, the film features some absolutely great shots. It’s one of the best filmed movies of the year, regardless of genre.
“Salt” is so refreshing because it gives us something incredibly familiar but very good. Summer is supposed to be a time of mindless fun, and this is the best example of that I can think of since Jolie’s last ass-kicking extravaganza, “Wanted.” She’s great. Noyce is great. The plot is stupid, but great. I just had a lot of fun. That’s all I was hoping for, and it’s what I got.