The Pitch: There’s No Way Out for Angelina.
The Review: The Cold War cast a terrible cloud over the world for a long time – unless you were a moviemaker, of course. The end of hostilities saw a changing landscape in action blockbusters, with one of the two superpowers not only reduced to a shadow of their former selves, but also no longer a threat. But those sneaky Ruskies, they’re slippery, y’see? They were just biding their time, waiting for the right moment to strike. Arbitrarily waiting nearly twenty years for the right moment, a Russian agent reveals himself and a surprising plan to strike against… the Russian president. (Don’t worry, that doesn’t make any more sense by the end of the movie.)
As with many blockbusters, the lead is effectively interchangeable, so much so that the difference between Tom Cruise (originally mooted) and Angelina Jolie (actually cast) is simply a gender – there’s even a bit of Mission: Impossible style mask silliness in the final act. The cast has been rounded out with generally capable actors, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor being the most prominent, but for the majority of the running time pretty much everyone else is there on the sidelines to pass comment on the latest twist in the plot. When I say twist, that may be overstating the case a little – the plot, played out against that backdrop of escalating terror attempts, simply challenges you to work out, “who is Salt?” Consequently there are only so many ways that can be spun before you run out of patience, and Salt will test just how far your personal limit is on that level.
As with any good blockbuster, though, if the action is good enough it can distract from any slight implausibilities in the plot. Director Phillip Noyce has form in this area, having done well with two Jack Ryan adaptations on his CV, but while other action has moved on, this feels slightly retrograde. Sure, there’s the POV shots from within a vehicle and some wanton destruction that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bourne movie, but the overall effect is pedestrian, rather than pulse-pounding. Jolie employs a few trademark moves when things go hand-to-hand, not least running up the nearest wall whenever she’s about to kick someone, but while you believe thoroughly that she could be capable of these actions, there’s nothing that will linger long in the memory.
Consequently, you are left enough time to dwell on the various improbabilities, such as Salt being able to assemble a rocket launcher in a confined space without any preparation, planning or assessment of the situation whatsoever, or that a building organised enough to install giant bulletproof shutters has massive blind spots on their security camera coverage. You’ll overlook the clichés, not least Liev Schreiber asking for a zoom into video footage for no other reason than so he can ask the freeze-frame what it’s up to. But this is just an early sample – moments like this continue, as you test your disbelief’s suspension. The final test comes at the end, with of a coincidence of such shuddering implausibility which triggers the final face-off that you should count yourself lucky to ever believe anything again. Salt has just enough to keep you interested, but if this was all the Cold War had to offer, maybe it’s a good job things have defrosted.
Why see it at the cinema: If you have a fear of heights and / or suffer from vertigo, then the shots of Angelina precariously climbing round a high ledge will successfully give you the willies. And if you like average action movies, you really should be seeing them on the big screen.
The Score: 5/10