Showing the trademark reflexes of modern action film franchises, Mission Impossible and the Bourne trilogy, Salt sits more with the former in its relentless pursuit of action and implausible motives, at the expense of adrenaline-filled suspense.
The opening scene is reminiscent of the James Bond film, Die Another Die, as we see Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie, shortly to write and direct her own war film) being tortured in a dark prison cell by nasty North Koreans from central casting, convinced she is a spy despite her pleas that she works for an international oil and gas concern (wouldn’t it be better to claim to be a spy?). The only difference from the Bond film is that they don’t subject Ange to Madonna’s grisly faux-electro title track. Small mercies indeed.
Salt is handed back to the CIA in a prisoner exchange organised by her devoted, arachnologist husband, because yes, he would have security clearance to do that. On returning to work, Salt interviews a Russian defector who names her as an undercover agent of Moscow who will assassinate the visiting Russian president in a few days time. Salt gets spooked by her colleagues’ desire to hold her for questioning and goes on the run to prove her innocence.
It’s all quite entertaining, silly fun with stunts, chases, Eastern-Bloc accents and explosions. There is a twist to the story, but empathy for Jolie’s character is limited to intakes of breath as she subjects herself to painful physical punishment. There are flaws in her character’s portrayed allegiances that I can’t discuss without ruining the one, possible surprise in the film, suffice to say that human collateral damage will probably not be counted when loyalties are assessed. But then, that’s war, isn’t it?
Emotional investment is inversely proportional to the silliness of the script, and so I felt like a spy who didn’t quite come in from the cold, but enjoyed playing in the snow.