Racing against time, defying gravity, and punching through plot holes, Salt is an immensely satisfying action thriller — as long as you’re not a purist for logic or common sense.
Salt hurtles along at a breathless pace, but not so fast that glaring inconsistencies are not apparent. But I found myself responding like Tommy Lee Jones to Harrison Ford’s protest of innocence in The Fugitive: “I don’t care!”
For Salt lives in the same territory inhabited by James Bond and Jason Bourne, the neo-geographic region known as Land of the Secret Agents, where a license to kill is issued automatically, along with a reckless disregard for truth and a hearty embrace of impossible coincidence. Angelina Jolie invests her role as CIA Agent Evelyn Salt with all necessary gravitas, which is to say she looks terrific beating up bad guys, improvising improbable escapes, and manufacturing bombs like MacGyver’s younger sister.
Director Phillip Noyce knows how to stage and shoot action scenes, whether intimate (Dead Calm) or large-scale (Clear and Present Danger), and here he combines that with his experience working with Jolie on The Bone Collector. In that movie, she was cool, calm and collected even as chaos reigned around her, and she exhibits a similar sense of cold, coiled danger here.
Is Evelyn Salt a Soviet agent planted in America as a young teenager, carefully cultivated to wreck national havoc in behalf of the Motherland? That’s the accusation made by a Russian man named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), who walks into CIA Headquarters in Washington D.C. With the Russian President due to arrive momentarily to attend the funeral of the U.S. Vice President, Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is not taking any chances, detaining Salt over the protests of the agent herself — she’s desperate to get home and make sure that her beloved husband Mike (August Diehl) is safe — and Salt’s supervisor, the loyal Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber).
That sets up an extended action sequence that’s a dividing line for the picture. Either you accept and roll with the wild implausibilities piled one atop another by director Noyce and scripter Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium, Law Abiding Citizen), or you roll your eyes and jump off a hurtling train. Noyce is aided by collaborators such as film editor Stuart Baird (Lethal Weapon and many more, and also director of Executive Decision and Fugitive sequel U.S. Marshals), cinematographer Robert Elswit (Tomorrow Never Dies, Michael Clayton, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies), and composer James Newton (The Dark Knight, and so forth and so on).
Noyce is a superb craftsman, which makes Salt a pleasure to watch. He makes it easy to follow the action, to understand the geography of a location, to sense the danger and feel the relief. All the performances are solid, and even if it’s impossible to accept all of the outrageous plot twists, I believed Angelina Jolie as Secret Agent Salt, as much as I bought her performances in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
Which is to say, if you’re looking for realistic political drama, you’re walking into the wrong theater. Salt is a really good action thriller with a very unrealistic view of Cold War theatrics. And I was completely on board with it.