Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Easily one of the shining-spots in a summer filled with more dreck than any other in recent memory, Salt is an extremely exciting and very engaging spy thriller from seasoned director Phillip Noyce. Starring a blazing Angelina Jolie, who owns the screen in a way that few stars can anymore, as possible Russian Agent Evelyn Salt, Noyce's film is a lean old-school cold-war flavored work with enough paranoia to connect it to classics like The Ipcress File and enough high octane action to please thrill-seeking summer filmgoers.
Australian born Noyce has been working behind the camera since the early seventies but he is best known for his Tom Clancy "Jack Ryan" film adaptations Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. While elements of both of those films are clearly on hand in Salt thematically and technically, it is Noyce's first collaboration with Jolie, the undervalued serial-killer thriller The Bone Collector, that is perhaps more relevant. Like The Bone Collector, Salt is a moody and relatively humorless work that shows Noyce as an ideal director for Jolie's considerable talents, as he clearly seems to understand that a frame with her is much more interesting than without. Salt is ultimately a better-film than the effective but flawed The Bone Collector but the success of both has everything to do with Jolie, and she is especially great as Salt's title character.
Originally designed as a vehicle for Tom Cruise, Salt began life as a script from the talented writer and director of the underrated Equilibrium, Kurt Wimmer. Wimmer's script for Salt is smart and refreshingly unfussy outside of a couple of unnecessary flashback sequences (that are the only sections in which the film slips) and it's suited fairly perfectly to Noyce's style.
Technically, the big-budget Salt is a top-of the line production all the way through, highlighted by the moody cinematography of Oscar winner Robert Elswitt and the jittery, but never confusing, cutting of editors Stuart Baird and John Gilroy. Only James Newton Howard's just sporadically interesting score (I can only imagine what a John Barry or David Holmes score would have added to this film) lets Salt down in the behind the scenes department. In front of the camera it is hard to focus on anyone other than the charismatic Jolie (who also performs the majority of her own stunts here admirably) but any cast featuring Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andre Braugher and the fabulous German actor August Diehl is well-worth mentioning. It's all about Angelina Jolie though and no other actor on the planet, Cruise included, could have brought such intensity, style and ultimately grace to Salt's title character.
Like the Summer's other best films (Kick Ass, Knight and Day, Inception) Salt is a work that operates as a succesful blend of past pieces (not the least of which are Noyce's own films). Elements are gathered from far-ranging classics like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold to You Only Live Twice to Wargames but Salt has something that none of those films had, which is namely Angelina Jolie and her presence and totally focused performance elevates what would have just been a solid-spy thriller to near greatness at every turn.
In a summer filled with mind-numbingly wretched action films like the headache inducing The Losers, The A-Team and The Last Airbender, Salt is a major relief and a real winner. While it's hard not to lament what a director like Michael Mann, who was originally slated for the work, would have brought to the material, Phillip Noyce is a real expert at this type of film and he delivers exactly what he needs to. Salt is an extremely entertaining and sharp work graced with an actor whom, like the character she plays, is totally captivating and absolutely untouchable.
***Don't quite trust me? Roger Ebert gives the film and Jolie a glowing four star review here.***