“Salt (2010)” Review

Angelina Jolie causes some problems for her employers at the CIA when a defector claims that she’s a mole.

Why did I watch it?

I picked it up for a quid on Bluray, because Bradshaw and Ebert both gave it a decent review, even if French didn’t. It seemed like the kind of thing I might like.

Did it meet expectations?

French was right. He said “There is an interesting thriller to be based on the latest developments in Russian espionage, but Salt…isn’t it.” Bradshaw and Ebert were wrong. Well, Ebert said “It does all the things I can’t stand in bad movies, and does them in a good one” so I suppose he’s half right. Jolie is a convincing action star – and I really enjoyed Mr & Mrs Smith (even if it would have been better at a half hour shorter). This film wants to be both Bourne & The Manchurian Candidate, but the overblown political plot overwhelms both the spy-craft and the personal elements. It starts well, at the CIA (though the security teams there clearly haven’t read From Russia With Love) and the subsequent chase sequences are great. For the most part, the clever plot twists are set-up well (with one exception) and keep you guessing, and there are some decent stunts – especially as Jolie leaps from truck to truck. Incidentally, it seems Jolie insisted on film a sequence of her climbing along the outside of a 12 story building for real (rather than on blue screen). Apparently she has no fear of heights. When you think about how she then went off and became pals with the British Foreign Secretary William Hague, you have a picture of quite an unusual woman.

There are interesting things about this film but they’re in the pre- and post- production. Salt was originally to have been played by Tom Cruise but, like swapping Cathy Cale for Dr Keel, they switched Jolie into the role. It’s interesting how much they had to change it – in the extras, Jolie notes that’s less about what Salt does and more about how people react. When a prisoner in underwear is dragged from a cell to be tortured, it has a different effect on people if she’s a woman. When a husband sees his wife has been beaten, it’s a different response from if a wife sees her husband has been beaten. For the most part I think they handled this rather well, adapting to strengthen the narrative rather than compromise it, or Salt’s character.

The other thing is that watching this on bluray, rather than in the cinema, you get three versions of the film. The director’s cut reinstates some scenes that were removed for certification, so I went straight for that. But I should have gone for the misnamed ‘extended cut’ (it’s shorter than the director’s cut) which takes out some scenes and replaces the ending. It doesn’t make a huge difference to the film’s plot (though it dumps some rather expensive set pieces) but it makes the story feel more logical and satisfying. If you’re going to watch Salt, watch the extended cut.

Oh, and finally, after 10 films that didn’t (all from the last 12 years) here’s one that passes the Bechdel test. Salt talks to her young neighbour about dog-sitting and homework.

You should watch it if…

  • You have nothing better to do for an hour and a half

You shouldn’t watch it if…

  • You prefer psychology to stuntwork

Next up: Elysium (2013)

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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