| This fast-paced spy thriller reunites Australian director Phillip Noyce (“Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger”) and glamorous superstar Angelina Jolie (“Wanted,” “Lara Croft”).
Jolie plays CIA agent Evelyn Salt and fans of the television show “Alias” will recognize a striking similarity to Jennifer Garner’s character Sydney Bristow. Salt is a master of disguises and her combat training makes her hands and feet lethal weapons.
This entertaining escapist popcorn fare had an interesting genesis. It was originally called “Edwin A. Salt” and Tom Cruise was rumored to star as the lead character. He dropped out of consideration and opted to make the inferior “Knight and Day” instead. A nifty gender switch of the central figure from male to female and Cruise’s loss is definitely Jolie’s gain with the distinct possibility of this turning into a blockbuster franchise.
An unexpected bonus came straight from the headlines less than a month ago when the FBI rounded up ten members of a Russian spy ring living among us for more than a decade. This cell of “deep-cover” sleeper agents included attractive redhead Anna Chapman a.k.a. Anya Kushchenko, who was a cover girl celebrity making the rounds in the Manhattan party circuit. This dose of reality takes some of the implausibility out of the outlandish premise of this movie.
In this origin story, we are introduced to a blonde-haired Salt set free as a result of a prisoner exchange with North Korea after being tortured and beaten. The movie proceeds two years later to the present day. Salt is happily married to Mike Krause (August Diehl), a German scientist who specializes in the study of spiders. She is assigned to a desk job in Washington, D.C., and looking forward to a romantic anniversary dinner. With less than an hour left in the work day, a supposed Russian defector named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) walks into the office. Salt’s immediate superior Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber from “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Sum of All Fears”) has her interrogate him, because she is fluent in Russian. Orlov talks about highly-trained sleeper agents indoctrinated from childhood and a bold plan to attack from within and destroy America.
The first stage is to kill the Russian president, who is attending the funeral in New York City of the recently deceased U.S. vice president. He then makes an even more startling revelation by identifying Salt as the assassin. Counterintelligence officer Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor from “2012,” “Redbelt”) believes Orlov and orders that Salt be taken into protective custody. Salt denies this false charge and immediately fears for her husband’s safety. She channels her inner James Bond/ Jason Bourne and goes on the run.
The movie kicks into high gear with non-stop action, death-defying stunts and expertly choreographed fight sequences. Pulse-pounding music from composer James Newton Howard (“The Dark Knight,” “Defiance”) heightens the suspense.
The movie, to its benefit, stays away from wordy conversations and lengthy explanations. It also goes back to the old-school style of filmmaking without relying on gimmick-laden CGI special effects. Its strong suit is keeping audiences guessing as to where Salt’s true allegiance lies. She is relentless in her quest and gets more ferocious over the brisk 100-minute running time.
The movie is full of unexpected twists and turns. The only thing certain in this no-frills, larger-than-life rollercoaster ride is that nobody is who they seem to be. A willing suspension of disbelief is necessary to get the most enjoyment out of this slickly-packaged summertime delight. Besides Noyce’s sure-handed mastery of straightforward espionage storytelling, kudos go to screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (“Law Abiding Citizen”), stunt coordinator Simon Crane and cinematographer Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood”), who has removed the shakiness from the hand-held cameras. Some of the dialogue is in Russian with English subtitles.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"