Tuesday 31 August 2010


 A couple of days before seeing "Salt", I claimed that action movies could not hold my interest for long; that about 30 seconds into a car chase, I get bored. This still holds true. Phillip Noyce's "Salt" has a car chase that probably lasts for five minutes or so, but it felt like a solid 40 to me. There is also the issue with casting the Soviets as the villains again, twenty years after the decline of the Soviet Union: in a world dominated by other global concerns, anything evoking the Cold War simply seems outdated and out-of-touch.
On the other hand, "Salt" successfully avoids all the tedious trends the genre of spy thrillers has been exposed to in the past years. There is no cutesy bickering between the leads, masking the seriousness of their task (saving the US/the world) with irony and humour. In fact, there isn't much talking at all once Salt (Angelina Jolie), a CIA agent who spent months in a North Korean Prison, saved by her pro-active German husband (August Diehl), and now looking forward to spending the rest of her career in an office, is being told by Vassily Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) that she is really a Russian sleeper agent who will kill the Russian president the following day. Salt flees, proving to be much more resourceful, resilient and creative than her boss (Liev Schreiber) expect (leave it to her to build a cannon out of office furniture and cleaning supplies). The viewer is left in suspense about her motives, as Salt seems to follow the path the Russian laid out for her. The anachronistic villain is the point, in a way, and doesn't even seem that far-fetched after the discovery of Russian spies living perfectly normal lives in the US a couple of months ago.
Angelina Jolie's face remains unreadable, and the performance she delivers here is stunning - she is as good an action heroine as she is a dramatic actress, and I have trouble coming up with a performance to compare this to (apparently the "Jason Bourne" trilogy would lend itself for comparisons but I've never seen any of those). For the most part, she does not even require a counterpart, just incredible amounts of adversaries who are no match for her skills. There are so few movies who feature unapologetic female heroes who do not end up with the male lead in the end (in this case, the very idea is reversed in the essential final scene, when Salt meets a man who might be able to win against her but they are separated by bullet-proof glass, so she has to rely on her ability to play pretend instead). Maybe, years after "Buffy" and "Alias" and even "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles", the idea of female heroes will finally take hold at the movies as well - and the ending of "Salt", after all, begs for a sequel.

2010, directed by Phillip Noyce, starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl, Daniel Pearce, Hunt Block.

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