Salt (2010) dir. Phillip Noyce
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski and Liev Schreiber
By Greg Klymkiw
Kurt Wimmer's screenplay for Salt is riddled with the sort of Swiss Cheese plot-holes that normally drive me up a wall, but happily, they only rear their ugly head AFTER the movie is over, and by then, it's too late. As it unspools, the movie is one hell of an amusement park ride and on that level, it delivers the goods and then some.
Wimmer, of course, is no stranger to penning screenplays that border on (or even cross over into) the insanely improbable, but deliver the sort of imaginative, kick-ass set pieces that directors endowed with considerable style and/or proficiency just love. This certainly includes Wimmer himself who directed the studio-butchered, but still wildly entertaining Ultraviolet with Milla Jovovich wreaking havoc in mouth-watering painted-on clothing amidst a dystopian sci-fi setting.
Salt director Phillip Noyce clearly had a ball with Wimmer's script. Whilst dopey as all get-out, the screenplay provides enough forward thrust to keep the audience guessing (though one major climactic plot twist can be predicted right from the beginning) and to provide Noyce with the kind of set-pieces he excels at (being, of course, one of the aforementioned filmmakers who can handle this sort of thing with considerable aplomb). It's a superbly crafted, pulse-pounding summer picture - maybe one of the best action pictures in months. If it weren't so humourless it might well have garnered an even higher star rating from me, but not every genre director can be Brian DePalma.
Noyce, in tandem with ace editor Stuart Baird, has rendered a straight-up, kick-ass action thriller that begins full throttle and escalates from there. In this respect (the only one that really counts with pictures like these), Salt is near-flawless in what it sets out to do.
Noyce, an Aussie helmer who began with smaller art films in his home country Down Under, has made several first-rate and diverse works in a career spanning over thirty years. The chilling 1989 three-hander scare-fest Dead Calm maintains, 20 years after it was first made, a nail biting creepy crawly quality. Starring a lithe, young Nicole Kidman as the fetching trophy wife of Sam Neill (and how they're terrorized by super-psycho Billy Zane on a luxury yacht in the middle oif the ocean), the picture was not unlike a Polanski-inspired version of Knife in the Water or Cul-De-Sac - but with the sort of crank and testosterone that precious Euro-types can only dream of making.
Add to the Noyce mix three bonafide classics of Australian cinema (Newsfront, Heatwave and Rabbit-Proof Fence), the excellent film adaptation of Graham Greene's The Quiet American and his two tremendous Tom Clancy adaptations of the Jack Ryan entries starring Harrison Ford: A Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games, and you've got a director perfectly poised to deliver the goods with Salt, a contemporary Cold-War-styled thriller starring Our Lady of the Lips, Angelina Jolie.
Jolie plays the title character, a CIA operative fingered by Russian defector Vassily Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) as being a Russian spy who will orchestrate an assassination that is going to plunge the planet into an all-out Third World War. Her partner Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) refuses to believe it's true and locks horns with Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) one of his colleagues who believes unequivocally that it is. Lip Lady busts out of the CIA's clutches to clear her name and the movie never lets up with some gorgeously executed gun battles, hand-to-hand ass-whupping, nail biting suspense and chase scenes of the most hair raising variety.
Is any of this vaguely original?
That said, the picture is such a thrill ride that it hardly matters. In fact, Wimmer's script - while all set-piece and little else - does manage enough of a genuine surprise treat in providing a somewhat ambiguous ending which, while it also keeps things open for a sequel - it does indeed leave us dangling in its final moments (but in a thoroughly satisfying manner).
The action set pieces are remarkably well-directed - each shot and each cut delivering blows and the kind of drive that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Noyce is. thankfully, of the old guard when it comes to orchestrating such carnage. There's relatively little in the way of the de rigeur herky-jerky shooting and cutting so prevalent in modern action pictures (notably in the hands of such hacks pretending to be artists like Christopher Nolan). Most of the coverage is solidly framed with a nice mix of shots that not only deliver the goods, but do so in a way that give you a clear sense of geography. Geography is essential in action sequences. It keeps you with the protagonist rather than being bombarded by noise and sloppy cutting.
The performances are all uniformly fine for a picture like this - especially from Jolie. She's an extremely likeable and stylish heroine who must don many visages to make it through the proceedings intact. The only disappointment in Jolie comes early in the picture when she is in the clutches of some nasty Korean interrogators. She's obviously been physically tortured and is about to receive even more punishment.
What doesn't ring true is that Jolie is trussed up, bleeding, bruised and ludicrously attired in her designer bra and panties. Now, I don't want you to think I'm disappointed because she's not buck naked (well, if truth be told, I am), but that all one can think about during this sequence (especially since it's intimated she's been sexually assaulted) is this: Why would her captors strip her down ONLY to bra and panties. It genuinely makes no sense given the context of the scene and you're pulled out of the action thinking only about the fact that (a) Jolie refused to strip down and (b) that the studio didn't want an R-rating.
But, I digress - lack of Jolie nudity is a mere quibble, especially since Salt entertains on the highest possible level and offers just what the lazy days of Summer order.