Sunday, March 6, 2011

Salt (2010)

Unconventionally plotted, fairly riveting spy-thriller about a female CIA agent who, after being incarcerated by foreign powers, is accused of being a double-agent. The most inspired element of the piece is the script by Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium, Ultraviolet), which initially plays it straight as a contemporary action-espionage flick, but then begins to call doubts onto Evelyn Salt's true allegiance. Keeping the protagonist a mysterious and inscrutable element for the length of the film is a very brave move for a film of this size, and I applaud the filmmakers for going ahead with something this ambitious. Angelina Jolie, as Salt, is more than up to the task of straddling the fence between sympathetic and despicable, without ever losing her enigmatic, style-savvy touch, even in a plethora of varied wigs and disguises. She was born for this sort of role, and even without Matt Damon's open-faced boyishness or Clive Owen's brutish masculinity, she carves out a presence that could go toe-to-toe with any of the contemporary spy heroes (needless to say, Daniel Craig's blonde hair would turn white after dealing with Eve Salt).

However, through truncated editing and direction, the film feels somewhat incomplete. We always feel a scene or two behind Salt's motivations, yet you sense Jolie's kismit with the role, so the fault lies with the pacing. The script, with it's bevy of double crosses, scenery changes, and dialogue-free, yet thoroughly relevant characters, was probably dismissed as confusing, and the filmmakers took it upon themselves to retain the framework of Wimmer's script, while expediting his particular brand of information dispersal. The end result is a hodgepodge of set-pieces, but without the character details and nuance that would have made this a true classic. Not only does the relevance of the action itself take a hit, but the plot twists, particularly the final reveal of the villain, end up coming across as contrived and calculated rather than organic. That being said, director Philip Noyce does display a previously-unseen talent for kinetic action choreography and spectacle that is a disctinct deviation from his usual, 1970's-cultivated sensibilities (see: Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Saint); he does not go as far as Paul Greengrass, nor as restrained and meticulous as Wimmer, himself, creating an effective, distinct style of his own. It is just a shame that the film ends up feeling like all the creative energy went to the set-pieces, and not the storytelling itself. Cast-wise, no one has enough time to really register, other than Liev Schreiber, who, once again, after X-Men Origins: Wolverine, manages to cobble together a memorable character out of a series of plot necessities and contrivances.

Recommended for fans of more difficult spy movies, such as the Holcroft Covenant or the Parallax View (read: NOT BOURNE), or Angelina Jolie; so far, there are two films which I would say appropriately convey her action-heroine potential, and while she was only second-fiddle in Wanted, this show is all about her, and, somewhat surprisingly, she lives up.

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