Movie review: Salt

Angelina Jolie packs in the action but Evelyn Salt leaves us cold

That the lead role of a CIA Agent on the run in Salt was originally written for Tom Cruise should leave you in no doubt that despite a tumultuous personal life and a knack for picking dud script after dud script, Angelina Jolie is still the go-to girl for feisty, violent action. And, as she did in Tomb Raider and Mr and Mrs Smith, Jolie as a take no prisoners female lead still packs a mighty punch. Such a pity, then, that the film and its protagonist can’t match her talents.

Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA Agent accused of being a spy (planted in an American family since birth) by a Russian defector. She goes quickly on the run, while random contrived shady espionage occurs with favourite enemy du jour, North Korea skulking in the background. Jolie excels, as you’d expect, in the ensuing scenes, as the unstoppable force she plays so well, but Evelyn Salt is so cold, so utterly devoid of realness, that it might occur to the audience that perhaps it was emotionally bankrupt action-bot Cruise’s role after all.

The competent thriller then becomes a relentless sequence of action scenes which, for such an obviously large budget, remain well executed and sharply deft, but strangely unexciting, (though admittedly, that could just be action-fatigue from a summer packed with high octane movie jinks with very little substance). But while it’s always at least mildly thrilling to see Jolie clinging to the side of a building after yet another daring escape, there’s little to allow the viewer to understand either her motives, or her emotions. Sure, it’s supposed to be suspenseful, and yes, there is a purpose to the air of mystique around her, an intriguing moral ambiguity that the pan-faced Jolie does so very well, but there has to be some other way to make us care about a character who, when boiled down to their essence, appears to just kind of love blowing stuff up and looking good doing it.

Set in a vacuous, morally bankrupt world that may or may not be an metaphor for Hollywood itself, director Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games) has a penchant for politics, but doesn’t appear interested in bothering us with the details, which means that all too often, there is not even the breeziest gust of exposition to bring us into the light. Is this a good or bad thing? It’s difficult to say, but it does mean that mistaking intrigue for confusion within the convoluted and often ridiculous plot is all too likely. Noyce cleverly keeps us guessing, but we know that just as the protagonist’ truth is built upon lies, so too is the film’s heart – exciting, yet empty and full of glaring holes. It’s not an easy feeling to remove from, even if you’re reluctantly enjoying the ride.

Andrea Hubert

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