- Directed by Phillip Noyce
- Screenplay by Kurt Wimmer
- Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Daniel Olbrychski
- Classification PG
Salt. Too much can kill you, and I'm not talking about the stuff you sprinkle on your corn. With an icy gaze, high kicks and an arsenal of nifty tricks, reigning action queen Angelina Jolie gets nasty as lovely, lithe and lethal CIA operative Evelyn Salt, who dispatches heavily armed guys like so many pesky flies in Salt, a brisk, breathless bender of spy-versus-spy fluff geared for maximum multiplex action and gunning for a sequel.
This is a movie with a massive Cold War hangover. Its premise - that Russian sleeper spies have been blending in with American citizens for years just waiting to be activated and execute evil plans - might have seemed preposterously old school were it not for the recent U.S.-Russia spy swap in Vienna. (The producers thank you, Washington and Moscow.)
Veteran director Phillip Noyce, best known for his adaptations of two Tom Clancy spy novels ( Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger), and cinematographer Robert Elswit deliver a barrage of pulse-racing, old-fashioned-thriller jolts. They keep our heroine on the run as she scales down buildings (no fire escapes for this lady), jumps between fast-moving vehicles and causes havoc at a state funeral (a dandy scene in which Salt blasts the pipe organ, causing a discordant and sinister drone to accompany the panic). This is accomplished with her ironed-straight hair unruffled and her makeup fresh.
Salt doesn't look so great in the film's opening scene, in which she withstands brutal torture in her skivvies in a North Korean prison. This most realistically violent scene leaves a mark on us, and is part of what keeps us guessing - as the movie's "Who is Salt?" tagline asks - at the heroine's true mission and motivation.
Released from the prison thanks to the efforts of her sweetheart, a German arachnologist, Salt wants nothing more than a CIA desk job after years in the field. But her dreams are dashed when she is pulled in with her boss Ted Winter (Liev Schrieber) and counterintelligence officer William Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to interrogate a coy older Russian spy (Daniel Olbrychski), who comes in from the cold and surprises everyone in the room by claiming that Salt is a sleeper spy.
The Russian escapes, and so does Salt, beginning a Jason Bourne-like run from her sympathetic boss and Peabody, who is less convinced she's innocent of this charge. Managing to keep just seconds ahead of a gaggle of law-enforcement pursuers - who start looking more like clueless boneheads as the action escalates toward a possible doomsday scenario - Salt is a slippery character in more ways than one. To the filmmaker's credit, the movie stays one step ahead of the audience, offering up tantalizing bits of Salt's childhood back-story and keeping us wondering whether we're watching an elaborate revenge fantasy, a double-agent mystery or something else entirely.
For all its action thrills, Salt is relatively humourless fare. There are a few minor chuckles, like Salt's MacGyver-like use of her pantyhose to block a surveillance camera, and of a maxi-pad to bandage a flesh wound. While this role was originally written for a male star (and reportedly offered to Tom Cruise), Jolie certainly owns it. But the story itself never provides a level of intrigue - say, the kind that surrounds Salt's main female action rival in films these days, Lisbeth Salander - that leaves you looking forward to the sequel.
Special to The Globe and Mail