sat 04/04/2020

Salt | reviews, news & interviews

Salt

Salt

An action caper best taken with a pinch of sodium chloride

With no Bonds or Bournes on the immediate horizon, no more Bauer with the end of 24, and the future of the Mission: Impossible series reportedly hanging in the balance, there appears to be an opening for a new secret agent franchise. It remains to be seen if Salt will plug the gap, though I for one will be more than happy if it does.

None of the above could be any more preposterous than Phillip Noyce’s film, which started out as a Tom Cruise vehicle before undergoing gender re-assignment surgery. No doubt there’s a thoughtful treatise in here somewhere about the interchangeability of Hollywood roles or the masculinisation of female characters. That, though, would be to lend far too much weight to a joyously barmy action caper that is best taken – yes, you guessed it – with a pinch of sodium chloride.

Take, for example, the fanciful notion on which Salt is founded – that Russian spies, inculcated from an early age in Yankee culture and behaviour, are positioned across the US waiting to be activated like latter-day Manchurian Candidates. This we know thanks to a helpful flashback that takes us into this sleeper factory, where a bunch of impressionable tykes are being indoctrinated. How, you may ask? Reader, I will tell you: by showing them a video of The Brady Bunch.

salt_angelina_crowdThat was the point when I stopped taking Salt seriously and began appreciating it for what it is – a kick-ass 007 wannabe with a heroine every bit as resourceful as any of her male counterparts. Having been named as one of these secret Soviet spooks by a would-be Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski), Jolie’s Evelyn Salt proceeds to bust out of CIA HQ by fashioning a home-made bazooka out of a fire extinguisher and a wastepaper basket. Before she does so, however, she incapacitates a security camera by draping her panties over its lens. Beat that, Daniel Craig!

It gets better. Cornered by her superiors, Evelyn escapes by leaping off a bridge onto the roof of an articulated lorry. Trapped in her apartment block, she flees by kicking off her shoes and shimmying down the outside of the building. At one point she even operates a police car from the back seat by using a Taser on its nominal driver. In the past we have seen similar stunts performed by Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity, for example, or by Tom Cruise himself in the recent Knight and Day. Angie’s secret weapon, though, is that she looks hot as hell doing it – a USP that makes her analyst-turned-assassin voluptuously alluring even at her most ferociously formidable.

angelina_torch_saltThe plot? Well, it has something to do with Jolie wanting to clear her name, save her insectologist husband (August Diehl) and stop a nuclear disaster, all while remaining a couple of steps ahead of her bemused superiors (Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejifor, wryly amusing and permanently frustrated respectively). That she does the latter with consummate ease makes this a feminist tract of sorts, as well as proof of the old adage about the female being deadlier than the male.

It is hard to reconcile this, though, with the sequence where Evelyn disguises herself as a man in order to smuggle herself into a Presidential hide-out. Are we meant to view this as a tacit acceptance that men have a value after all? And had the film been made with Tom Cruise as originally planned, would that same scene have seen the Top Gun star in drag? Talk about rubbing salt in the wound.

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