SALT (2010) (***1/2)
To get a sense of this actioner take an awesome Bond girl, say like Tatiana, have her train with Jason Bourne and let her loose against the CIA. And one of the main reasons it all works is that you have Angelina Jolie at the helm. She really is the first female action star.
To start Evelyn Salt (Jolie) has been taken prisoner by the North Korean government. When a prisoner swap is arranged, she asks her partner Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber, TAKING WOODSTOCK) why the CIA didn't just write her off — his answer is that her boyfriend Mike Krause (August Diehl, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS) wouldn't let them. Now free and married, Salt is looking to take a desk job. But a Russian spy named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski, BREAK POINT) walks into CIA HQ and wants to defect. He has an elaborate tale of Russian agents planted in the U.S. since they were children and that one is about to assassinate the Russian president on U.S. soil. He says the agent's name is Evelyn Salt.
Counter intelligence agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 2012) instantly suspects her and has her put in an interrogation room. She worries about her husband's safety since her cover was blown in North Korea. When she goes on the run, we're not sure if it's because she wants to find her spouse, or if she is really a Russian spy, or if it's C) all of the above.
The film often works as a successful shell game, keeping us focusing on elements we can figure out while hiding other secrets right under our noses. Kurt Wimmer's script is a greatly paced puzzle and director Phillip Noyce knows how to shoot and time these kinds of films like he did in DEAD CALM and the first two Jack Ryan films. There is one misstep in a shocking twist toward the middle. It works extremely well emotionally for the moment it happens, but dilutes the emotional pull of the film over time.
Some of the action is preposterous, but no more so than in many James Bond films. As we know from the damn MYTHBUSTERS, most of anything that takes place in these kinds of movies is preposterous. But like the Bourne series and latest Bond films the action falls within the bound of reasons of suspension of disbelief. Salt is the kind of character who thinks on her feet and she's really smart and skilled. She never does anything that seems completely out of character for a super spy, which is key. I don't care if it couldn't happen in real life, but this film has one of the best uses of a taser ever.
The best part is that the film gives us a reason to care. In a few quick strokes, we feel that Evelyn and Mike would do anything for each other. It's the driving force of everything that happens. It also helps to keep us guessing about Salt's motives.
To be honest I wasn't expecting much going into this one, but it put a smile on my face from the start. It's serendipity that real-life, long-term Russian spies were captured on U.S. soil right before this film came out. In some ways it makes the film's giant Russian conspiracy seem far less dated. Nonetheless, Noyce has fun with the throwback spy tale — at one point there's a great wink wink to the audience in a costume change. Jolie is the sexiest spy around and a bona fide action badass. Anna "Agent 90-60-90" Chapman needs to watch out, because in my mind she was pretending to be a spy while Evelyn Salt is the real deal.