It seems like such a simple recipe, take a big charismatic star, make them a sympathetic character, put them in jeopardy visa via some unexplained mystery, and have them hunted by what on paper at least should be clearly superior forces. (Think Bourne Identity, Mission Impossible, the Prisoner, etc.) It’s a simple formula, but it seems like only one in a hundred movies are actually able to cook up something worth watching when they attempt this recipe.
With their new movie Salt writer Kurt Wimmer and director Phillip Noyce manage to pull off it off with just the right pinch of originality and the result is outstanding summer movie fare. Angeline Jolie is cast perfectly as Evelyn Salt, the hard to read CIA agent accused of being a Soviet mole. She is beautiful, mysterious, and as hard as nails. (Did I mention beautiful? The filmmakers try hard to pretend that they don’t notice, but it quickly becomes a conceit. The camera absolutely loves Jolie.)
The movie moves at the perfect pace, it gets the ball rolling with few preliminaries, opens up the throttle, and then never slows down or makes the mistake of giving you time to think. If something preposterous happens, there’s no time for the audience to dwell on it, there is already something else exciting going on.
The role was originally written for a man and there is some visual irony in seeing a character being played by Angelina Jolie being physically treated like a character being played by Bruce Willis. (And there is a lot in this movie that reminded me of Die Hard, another great action hero, hunted, up against overwhelming odds movie.)
It’s interesting that the movie had to be completely rewritten in order to let Angelina Jolie step into a role originally meant for a man. According to the Jolie it allowed the movie and her character to become “harder and darker.” Although we like to see Angelina Jolie acting almost hyper-masculine at times, I am not sure we’d be willing to accept a man in the same role without lightening him up, making him warmer, or making him more sympathetic. There is definitely no lightness to Evelyn Salt and there’s more than a touch of the Dark Knight.
One particularly refreshing thing about the movie was a return to real stunt work and a switch away from the heavy use of CGI, which easily overwhelms my ability to maintain the suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy a film.
Is it great cinema? Not even close, but for a summer action movie it’s an unexpectedly well-seasoned treat right out of the oven.