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Monday, April 18, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: Salt (2010)

We haven’t had a good Americans vs. Communists action movie in a while.  Dolph Lundgren wasn’t available for this one so we get Angelina Jolie.  I’m not complaining though.  Angelina Jolie is arguably the most beautiful and equally talented and convincing actress since Faye Dunaway.  She is a true “movie star;”  the kind that people will cherish for decades and decades as a screen beauty and a great talent.  So is this star vehicle a worthwhile experience?

Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is a government agent who, as it turns out, is a Russian mole who emigrated to the U.S. as a child to infiltrate and attack when the time is right.  She is just one of many, and they are to know when the time is right to strike at the core of the American capitalist system.  After an interview with a political prisoner she sort of gets the signal and things start to fall apart for her as she becomes the subject of a skilled agent (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a long-time superior’s (Live Schreiber) suspicions.  She reaches out to her husband and does what she can to patch her home life, but after she finds he may have been killed her wrath takes over.  She begins a series of attacks on Russian and American officials.

After the first ten minutes or so, Salt is mainly a very long chase film with very little downtime.  The action set pieces are, however, very well done.  Opting for more practical effects than CGI (like the previously reviewed Unstoppable), the stunts are often convincing despite the fact that a normal person would not likely walk away from the barrage of metal-crushing crashes that Mrs. Salt endures throughout the film.  The stunts are smart though, and some are even original, a rarity in modern action.

Aesthetically, Salt does look good.  Soft blues and grays give an ominous feel and Jolie is both gorgeous and menacing.  It doesn’t try too hard to look “awesome” like some recent action films do and as a result feels more natural and believable.  That’s not saying that there aren’t some shots that are just breathtaking.  Some slow-motion stunts are hefty, and feel like classic Hollywood fun.  So, with the big stunts and the apparent scale of the film’s plot, why does it feel like it’s weighted down?

My biggest complaint about Salt is that it just feels derivative.  Though I thought both Avatar and Inception were both greatly overrated, but at least they felt fresh and exciting.  They moved, and you could feel the flow of the film.  Salt is very kinetic and exciting at times, and it still just seems to hang there.  Possibly with a little better editing this could have been a true classic, as it is it just feels like it is holding back.  The pacing aside, when I juxtapose the grandiose plot of Communist infiltration with the relatively narrow focus of the film’s events, it just seems like it was a great idea that wasn’t fully realized.

I, personally, would have found a film about the children in Russia, trained and sent to the States.  How they adapted and grew and how they executed a concerted attack on a massive scale.  This could have been a truly fascinating film and with this possibility hanging over it, Salt just seems weak.  This is the problem with a star vehicle like this: when filmmakers pay big bucks for a star like Jolie, they tend to want to make her (or him) the sole focus.  This is a marketing decision rather than an artistic one, and in braver hands, this could have been the next Blade Runner.  Unfortunately, it is not.

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