There comes a time in the average moviegoers life where they’ll see a film and have no idea what they think about it. It’s a movie that they have no real feeling for, positive or negative. Although I wouldn’t consider myself an “average” moviegoer (seeing as how I see them all), I’ve had this experience a number of times. Now here I am, just returning home from a screening of Salt, and I’m having it again. Its plot flips every which way on its simple journey from opening to close and characters seem to switch moral sides throughout. Sometimes it works. At others, it doesn’t. But the failures outweigh the successes, making Salt a mildly enjoyable, though not recommendable, summer action picture.
The film begins in North Korea where CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is being held as a prisoner of war. She has been beaten and tortured for an indefinite period of time, but is finally released when her husband Mike (August Diehl) finds out where she is and convinces the United States government to help her. Now she is back home working at the CIA headquarters (which works secretly under the guise of RINK Petroleum) and all is well. But one day, a Russian defector named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) is found snooping around and brought in for questioning. As Salt interrogates him, he outs her as a Russian spy and the CIA agents listening in take notice. Although she insists otherwise, they don’t necessarily believe her, so she breaks out to clear her name and find her husband, who she fears may be in jeopardy.
The basic structure of the plot works like this: quick prologue, one long bout of exposition that can be summarized as “Salt will kill the Russian President,” an hour of nonstop espionage action, end. Watching this movie is like taking a sucker punch from an angry man followed by an hour of whippings. Out of nowhere it explodes into action and never lets up. Without downtime, it becomes too hectic and by the end, I was exhausted.
To extensively delve into why the film didn’t work for me would mean ruining the story and I hesitate to do that, but I must point out that the many plot twists do little to intrigue the viewer. One in particular, while interesting, makes everything before it seem unnecessary. Why would the characters act this way? What overall purpose are they serving? The amorphous plot ran on and on and as details began to surface, it only muddled the experience.
While Salt certainly would have worked as a straight forward action picture, the filmmakers decided to throw in these narrative curveballs, but it doesn’t work. I suspect Kurt Wimmer (who wrote the equally dopey Law Abiding Citizen) gave himself a big pat on the back as he put this one on the page, but the problem is he thinks his story is smarter than it actually is. It takes itself so seriously that it makes it hard for the viewer to. At least recent action fare like Knight and Day and The A-Team knew they were stupid and reveled in it. Salt merely thinks it’s doing something more, but in reality is doing much less.
Salt may be a failure, but it’s a mild one. It has moments of inspiration and Jolie is magnificent. Channeling her characters in Wanted and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, she works the tough, calculated persona well, but the material she works with simply isn’t up to her level. I hate to tell you to give a pass to Salt, but I find no reason to insist otherwise.
Salt receives 2/5