Salt runs, punches, and shoots in a consistently relentless volley of movement, pummeling down a predictable narrative corridor of Cold War paranoia and Nuclear annihilation. As the titular C.I.A. agent who may or may not be a Russian mole, Angelina Jolie puts every ounce of physical exertion into her character’s often bombastic fits of chaotic prowess. Actress and character solidify together early during an impressive acrobatic running jump kick, then never evolve past the surface throughout the countless proceeding action scenes. If not anything complex, Salt must have been a good workout for one Hollywood’s leading actresses.
Directed by Aussie Philip Noyce (Dead Calm, The Quiet American) Salt jumps out of the gate with a North Korean prologue highlighting the stakes of the game. Captured by the military during an operation, Salt survives a brutal interrogation in the depths of a nasty torture chamber. The scene is born from any James Bond movie, and only exists to introduce doubt into the mind of the viewer regarding Salt’s alliances. Jump two years later, and Salt looks right at home in D.C., chatting it up with her boss Ted Winter (Liev Schrieber) and living happily ever after with her German boyfriend Mike (August Diehl). When an old school Russian spy named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) strolls into Langley and outs Salt as a Russian spy, the film never stops playing cat and mouse, jettisoning Salt into the outer layers of counterintelligence, political assassinations, and Russian sleeper agents.
Salt attempts to be part 1970’s conspiracy thriller, part Bourne globe trot. And Jolie does her best to sustain the film’s physical demands; careening off walls, scaling skyscrapers, and wielding machine guns as if she was born with one in her hand. But Salt suffers from painfully dull pacing that lacks tangible danger. Unlike the great urban ambush sequence in Clear and Present Danger or the assault on Jack Ryan’s beach house in Patriot Games, Noyce constructs Salt without any fresh kinetics, relying on plodding and lazy payoffs to fulfill each scene. It makes Salt quickly turn from interesting action subversion to moot convention among Hollywood’s genre fare landscape.
Not surprisingly, the panicked America in Salt could have been ripped from sensationalist headlines in the 1980’s, especially considering the recent upswing of post-Soviet fear both in the news and in mainstream movies. Yet Noyce doesn’t see any worth in slowing down to reveal the complexities of the political or social situations at work. In this regard Salt is a shoot first, never ask questions later style of assassin, a deadly worker bee who could go on forever hunting and maiming for whichever country soots its fancy. And with sequels on the horizon, it looks like Salt will have plenty of international boogiemen to steamroll through in the years to come. Certainly a good thing for Jolie’s gym bill, but not so much for savvy genre-hounds craving innovative material.