Review: Salt ★★★★

Salt (USA, 100 min)
Dir: Philip Noyce; Writ: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Who is Salt? For months, the question has teased us in trailers, on posters, and in Internet banners. The catchy ad-line is also a great premise. The Jason Bourne movies already proved that unraveling the identity of a secret agent makes for grand entertainment, but whereas the Bourne films took a whole trilogy to uncover Jason Bourne, Salt decodes the mystery of its character in one brisk action-packed film.
From the opening frames of the film, the viewer is thrust into the mystique of Evelyn Salt (a perfectly feisty Angelina Jolie). Salt is being held hostage in a Korean prison. During a brutal torture sequence, she insists that she is not a covert agent. Salt is subsequently released in a Checkpoint Charlie style trade in which she reminds her coworker, Ted (Liev Schreiber), that no agent is worth the price of exposing the mission. He agrees and concedes that her release was facilitated by the unrelenting requests of her husband, Mike (August Diehl). So, who is Salt? We know she’s married, and that she is, in fact, an American spy, but even from the beginning, it’s uncertain to whom her allegiance lies.

Unlike the film version of The Girl Who Played With Fire, which opened with an intriguing look at its heroine, Lisbeth Salander, and then only offered the occasional blip to develop her character, Salt delves deeply into the identity of Jolie’s spy. Through a series of quick plot developments, Salt rapidly transforms before our eyes. As a result, Salt is consistently fascinating. Furthermore, the film is frequently unpredictable because each revelation in Jolie’s character unearths a provocative question about one of the film’s secondary characters. Salt contains some doozy plot twists, which are even more surprising given the rapid pace at which they come. It would do a disservice to explain the plot of Salt in any depth beyond what is told in the trailer: Salt is a CIA agent who is accused of being a Russian spy, and then goes on the lam in order to prove her innocence and yada yada yada …
With Salt, Angelina Jolie delivers a heroine in the same league as spies like Jason Bourne or James Bond. Jolie kicks some serious butt as Salt, but she also invests a necessary emotional bent to her character. Her expressive eyes and quivering lip remind us that whatever Salt may be, she is not just a well-trained killer. Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor also offer strong turns as Salt’s fellow CIA operatives, who are protecting and pursuing her respectively. Throughout this high-octane pursuit, Salt mainly succeeds because of how much fun Jolie has in the title role. Salt’s cool demeanor and impressive action skills make even the most outrageous sequences spectacularly entertaining.

While Salt is undeniably fun, it lacks the kinetic energy that elevated the Paul Greengrass installments in the Bourne franchise above the level of most summer blockbusters. However, even taken as a popcorn movie, Salt is smarter and more entertaining than the average action pic. As far as spy thrillers go, it is even better than some of the recent James Bond films.

If anything, Salt is like a bigscreen version of 24. Within this slick production, Evelyn Salt resembles the frequently framed Jack Bauer, and she is just as forgivable for her seemingly irrational violence. Moreover, Salt is just as delightfully preposterous as an episode of 24; like farfetched heroics of Jack Bauer, Salt is immensely enjoyable if taken with…well, a grain of salt.