Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Salt (U.S., 2010) directed by Phillip Noyce, 100 minutes

Nominated for 1 Oscar
Best Sound Mixing 
I do find it curious that this film was only nominated for Best Sound Mixing and in no other category. I ain't saying this is art but, at the very least, the film and sound editing was extremely well done. You will need a refresher on the plot which is a bit involved and highly detailed here

These sorts of thrillers are usually not my kind of thing. The script feels dated as if it was written decades ago and resurrected with the idea of recasting a strong female lead in it. It has a Cold War feel to it which is a bit odd as tensions between the U.S. and Russia petered out with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Do we still fear that the Russians are trying to invade us from within by having Soviet trained children infiltrate the top echelons of the U.S. political system and the military? Hmm, do we?

Haven't we moved on to new villains now? Little tiny North Korean dictators with a fixation on Hollywood (although there is a brief nod to them here in the opening scenes)? Iranian leaders with big mouths and amnesiac memories about the decimation of European Jews during WWII? Oh, oh here's a popular one - radical Muslims - that's currently an audience favorite with conservatives and xenophobes.

But I have to say that Angelina Jolie has enormous appeal in this role. She is one of the few big box office female stars in Hollywood who could pull this role off – the role is extremely physical, very punishing and there are few actresses who could make these extraordinary antics seem mildly plausible. Even in those scenes where Jolie is not personally performing these spectacular stunts such as jumping from one moving vehicle to another on a highway, leaping out of aircraft, crawling along the surface of a highrise apartment building from window to window, disarming a whole squadron of secret agents singlehandedly - you believe that she is capable of these incredible feats of strength and power. That's star power.

Who else could we put in this category of female action hero – possibly Charlize Theron or the acting-challenged Milla Jovovich (star of the never ending Resident Evil sequels) and definitely the newcomer Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy)? But Theron is little too soft in appearance, Jovovich doesn't have the acting chops and Rapace is still a bit of an unknown entity - and neither surpasses, much less matches, Jolie in star power.

The plot is extremely convoluted as many modern thrillers seem to be – the viewer slips back and forth wondering...is CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) a double agent or not? Did she marry Michael Krause (August Diehl) for love or as a cover for her spying activity? Why did Orlov (played by a slithery Daniel Olbrychski) approach Salt and blow her cover in front of her CIA colleagues if she was truly destined to fulfill her mission by killing the President of Russia to foment trouble between the two nations? Was that in itself a test of some kind by Orlov? 

I like the way they (the male characters) treat Salt as an equal – they actually seem physically afraid of her and they approach her in the same way they would any dangerous male opponent. We, the viewers, don’t cringe in the same manner when she is attacked because it’s Angelina Jolie – we know that she can take it! We are not horrified that a man is hitting a woman, our response is more like: oh boy, I can’t wait till she takes her revenge and kicks his ass. 

What more is there to say about Angelina? She appears as a kind of superwoman on screen with enormous sex appeal and charisma. Her beauty seems to mitigate the violence, even perversely enhances our experience of the violence. Imagine, say, Kathy Bates, plunging a broken vodka bottle into the neck of the spy Orlov…it has a totally different resonance doesn't it? It may be sexist, it may be unfair, it's certainly manipulative to cast a beautiful woman in this role but hey...it does achieve its goals of completely disarming us.

The diversity of the cast (such as Chiwetel Ejiofor in the role of agent Peabody) and extras amongst the CIA and Secret Service members is refreshing. Peabody is an uncompromising hardass and there is seemingly no desire to soften his character or make him appear to be a nice guy because he is black. Ultimately we see that he is one of the good guys but that’s only after almost two hours of Peabody chasing Salt, beating a confession out of her and trying to convince everyone around him that she is a traitor. 

It's a great ride visually – and I can live with the holes in the plot. Jolie makes it all worthwhile. 

Post-script: Maybe the idea of raising brainwashed sleeper cells in the U.S. isn't such an outdated idea. Maybe enemies of the U.S. are plotting this as...we...speak. This is from a U.S. congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas, last summer: 

I talked to a retired FBI agent who said that one of the things they were looking at were terrorist cells overseas who had figured out how to game our system. And it appeared they would have young [radical Islamic] women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby. They wouldn't even have to pay anything for the baby. And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, twenty...thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life. 'Cause they figured out how stupid we are being in this country to allow our enemies to game our system, hurt our economy, get setup in a position to destroy our way of life.

Hey, maybe Gohmert should take a screenwriting course.

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