Before I tell you how deliciously pleasurable and cathartic Salt is, before I begin to gush in embarrassing ways over Angelina Jolie’s pouty lips and high cheekbones – and how sexy she looks decked out in a Russian fur hat (I’m buying one for Govindini immediately; every beautiful woman should have one) – I need to let you in on a few things that may shock you. So here we go:Send a pregnancies ok, na gut. 1 proscar Equally, these buggers of readout in the doctor create negative pde marketers and mostly turn a joss for further somebody of place in preciosas.
The premise of the new Angelina Jolie/Phillip Noyce action-thriller Salt is that the United States has been massively penetrated by Cold War-era Soviet communist sleeper agents, who even in exile from contemporary Russia are dead set on America’s destruction. These agents are nasty, dangerous, and out to get every one of us. They hide out in the open, but also in upper echelons of power – where they wait patiently to strike. And there are a helluva lot of them, far too many for our otherwise overloaded intelligence bureaucracies to handle.
How dangerous are these sleeper agents? For starters, their first successful operation – as we are informed by way of flashback – was nothing less than the killing of President Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald, who (and here Salt’s fictional story dovetails nicely with actual history) spent several years living in the Soviet Union before returning to his life as an underworld drifter in New Orleans. And now our nation is flooded with such men – cold, calculating, highly effective killers trained to strike on command and plunge America into its final, richly-deserved (from the communist perspective) apocalypse.
Oh, and by the way – one of them might be Angelina Jolie. [I knew those lips were too good to be true!]
Does this premise surprise you? It certainly surprised me, because Hollywood hasn’t been telling stories like this since the 1980’s. But in point of fact, I don’t even recall films with this sort of premise appearing in the 80’s! And it’s for this reason that Jolie, Noyce and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura deserve a lot of credit for bringing this taut, intelligent and politically incorrect thriller to the screen right now, when – ironically – we would seem to need it the most.
I’d like to tell you more about the plot of this film, actually, and take you through every suspenseful twist and turn, but that would spoil the fun when you see it – and really you should see Salt. Because months before Red Dawn is released, months before Mao’s Last Dancer hits theaters – and even, frankly, with an otherwise commendable film like the French Cold War thriller Farewell in theaters right now – Salt is the dealbreaker for me that suggests that Hollywood is not as irretrievably left-liberal-progressive as we’ve been led to believe. It can’t be, at least not any longer; there is simply no way this film could’ve been made, were it so. The sense I have is that a fight is underway in the industry right now, that our national narrative is up for grabs. Maybe it’s backlash against Obama causing this. Maybe it’s too many years of bad movies belittling the war on terror. Who knows? [Plus, there's also the issue of Jolie's father, noted Tea Partier Jon Voight. Is some of the old man's craggy wisdom finally rubbing off on his formerly estranged daughter?]
In any case, Salt really helps matters right now, provided that you’re oriented toward liberty. Salt won’t take back Avatar or a lot of other nonsense that the industry has been dishing out, but it definitely is a shot in the arm. All you really need to know about Salt’s storyline is this: the film has two major cathartic moments in it, both of which revolve around Angelina Jolie terminating communist agents. And if that doesn’t get your freedom-loving blood flowing, you’re insensate [Or, alternately, you're one of those well-tailored, narcotized characters in a Christopher Nolan film.]
Salt sets up a situation in which C.I.A. agent Angelina Jolie may be a Soviet sleeper agent. For quite a while we don’t know – indeed, we’re not even sure she knows, a la Bourne. Outwardly, she appears to be a highly effective C.I.A. field operative. We first get to see her in the midst of a harrowing, torture-filled captivity by the North Koreans (the North Koreans wisely keep her in lingerie, however), before she’s released by way of a spy transfer; listen in this sequence, by the way, for the film’s nice potshot at Kim Jong Il. Once back in the States, Jolie just wants to settle down with her nerdy, German entomologist husband and retire upward to a desk job.
Jolie married to a nerdy German entomologist. Holding down a desk job. I know – I laughed, too.
But events won’t let her settle down, of course, because in through the C.I.A.’s door (literally) walks a Soviet agent with a story to tell – a story about a secret communist operation, dating back decades, to train a generation of super-spies to infiltrate the West. These agents are trained to remain undercover, to adopt Western ways (in Jolie’s case, this obviously includes looking fabulous in a pant suit), and to then strike at the opportune moment.
Mayhem ensues, and the film is off to the races. What takes over, at this point, is Jolie’s star power. There’s been a lot of chatter lately over the death of the movie star, how today’s hit movies no longer need stars, etc. Right. Salt takes that argument and drops it in the compost pile where it belongs. Jolie carries this film completely, and frankly Salt suffers in the rare moments she isn’t on-screen. Everybody else in the cast – and this includes Liev Schreiber – is strictly TV level, and the film might easily have been an episode of ”Covert Affairs” without her. As soon as she’s wearing her 60s retro-bangs, and decked-out in all black, you suddenly realize what energy a star like her can bring to a film.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
Once Jolie’s true allegiances are revealed, what’s being set up in this film is a situation in which – in classic action movie style – she can become both a freedom-loving American hero and fulfill a revenge fantasy. And the film leaves no doubt that its producers are hoping for Salt to become a franchise – one in which Jolie stalks the land seeking retribution against the final vestiges of Soviet communism, hiding here in America. Wow. Where do I sign up? All I ask is that she wears a nightgown in the next film instead of the black duster – which looked a little scratchy, anyway.
*** END OF SPOILERS ***
Of course, here we should pause and address the issue of female stars making violent action movies of this sort. There were several things I didn’t like about Salt, and one of them involves how frequently – and savagely – Jolie is hit on screen. Let me make this abundantly clear: civilized society should despise violence against women, fictionalized or not, and even when the woman in question appears to be as rugged (or privately masochistic?) as Angelina Jolie. It bothered me to no end to watch one guy after another punch or kick Jolie in this film, because striking women is both morally repugnant and cowardly. There is way too much of this sort of thing in Salt, and it compromised my enjoyment of the film – even though Jolie ultimately dishes out much more punishment than she gets.
So essentially Jolie pays for her action star status in this film by getting slapped around a lot. And this, I think, is something that women should rebel against – because it’s setting up a situation in which they’re just going to get abused. It’s too bad the feminists are so asleep on this point. Or are they quietly complicit?
While I’m at it, I should probably mention a few other things that didn’t work for me in this otherwise enjoyable film. When Jolie made a spy movie like this several years ago with Brad Pitt called Mr. and Mrs. Smith, she was given opportunities to be sexy, playful, frisky and charming. The domestic moments between her and Pitt were easily the best part of that film – and, of course, portended real-life dramas to come. Unfortunately, Noyce gives her no such moments in Salt – she’s treated strictly as an action hero, Stallone with bangs, and that’s a shame. Salt was screaming out – or maybe just I was screaming out – for one of those scenes that usually take place at an embassy dinner, when the leading lady spy walks in wearing a killer black cocktail dress. Heads turn, and while the heads turn she slips a beeping transmitter down some guys lapel pocket, or something. Jolie doesn’t get to use her feminine wiles in this film, which is a big loss. You never even see her in a dress! Major mistake.
Also, Salt’s action scenes are shot using a shaky, faux-documentary camera a la Bourne – and this completely drains these scenes of any coherency or artistry. Everything is just a violent blur. I suppose this was done to hide the fact that Jolie is not, after all, Bruce Lee – but with good choreography she probably could’ve managed just fine for this film’s purposes, without the cinematographer making a hash of it.
Ultimately, though, what I like the most about Salt is that the film stands squarely on the side of freedom – but does so in an interesting, unexpected way. Through the first half of the film, the question on the audience’s mind is essentially this: was Jolie brainwashed as a young child into being an assassin? The second half of the film renders this question moot by telling us that she – and we, by extension – can always still make decisions about our own fate. Salt thereby takes a trendy premise in recent cinema – that of our ostensibly fungible, unstable identity (re: Christopher Nolan’s Inception) – and turns this premise on its head. Jolie’s character is given a clear and concise decision to make, a moment in which she can resist her brainwashing and choose sides in the struggle between freedom and tyranny. Salt tells us that we can make such choices, regardless of how we may have been mentally or emotionally conditioned.
And when Jolie makes that choice … you’re going to smile. I only got out of the theater a few hours ago, and I’m still smiling.
An interesting footnote: there were a lot of women in the morning screening I was in, many of them middle-aged, and they were enthusiastically applauding at the end of the film. This did not happen for Inception.
Posted on July 23rd, 2010 at 5:39pm.