2010, PG-13, 100 min. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 23, 2010
Is it life imitating art or the other way around? Ultimately, it doesn't matter: Salt reboots the cinematic cloaks and daggers of the Cold War espionage thriller in exactly the same way as the recent, real-life Russian spy case reminded us all that, 19 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there are still plenty of spies waiting to come in from the cold. Noyce's film – more Ian Fleming than John le Carré – is adult popcorn fun, lightweight but durable, with Jolie trading up from her tomb-raiding Lara Croft days for a more complex but equally seductive blend of parkour-based action (one sequence, designed by stunt master Simon Crane, has Jolie's renegade CIA agent leapfrogging from the roofs of speeding tractor trailers; it rivals anything Daniel Craig's yet done as James Bond). Jolie's titular veteran agent, blond and bee-stung, takes it on the lam when a cancerous Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) drops by CIA headquarters and outs her as a deep-planted Soviet mole. Initially backed by her supportive if increasingly suspicious superior (Schreiber), the FBI and CIA are forced by circumstance to collude in the pursuit of this sudden quarry in their midst. That's Salt's most cunning bit of reel world fictionalizing, really. The rest of the film, breathlessly paced though it is, plays like a nostalgic revision of the original The Manchurian Candidate meets The Boys From Brazil, hopped up on video-gamer steroids. Which, frankly, is a downright kickass premise. Jolie manages to infuse the character of Evelyn Salt with multiple shades of gray – "is she or isn't she?" multiplied by the power of contemporary terror paranoia – and the script by Kurt Wimmer (The Thomas Crown Affair) is convoluted enough to evoke the labyrinthine corridors of Langley-based power while never sacrificing action for anything so dreary as post-Cold War polemics. It's nail-biting good fun, sporting some très haute couture nails.