Salt was originally intended as a star vehicle for Tom Cruise, so it should be no surprise that another box-office powerhouse like Angelina Jolie could easily step in and fulfill the role to absolute perfection. Jolie is a charming actress, and easily the woman you want to bet on in a fight. A problem with Salt is that it doesn’t give her quite enough to chew on, leaving her wandering from one fast-paced set piece to the next often listlessly and confused. She’s obviously the hero, and unless you have some creepily voyeuristic misplaced anger towards her about Jennifer Aniston, I think it’s safe to say that you want her to succeed. She’s been a commanding lead in films before, the sole reason to watch devastatingly awful video game adaptations like Tomb Raider. She’s often the single most commanding actor in a film, like in The Good Shepherd. Rarely does she deliver a performance short of astounding, given the implicit crappiness of her circumstances. The unfortunate thing about Salt is also its most lauded quality. Critics and audiences in the know praise the film’s gender-blind casting and claimed that the Cruise/Jolie swap was inspired. From a practical standpoint, the decision is a disaster. The only reason a movie script could allow for such a gender-swap to occur would be if its central character was so bland and under-written that there were no important details beyond gender to transfer.
The premise of the movie and its marketing campaign can be clearly logged in three words: “Who is Salt?” We don’t know until the last fifteen minutes, and it often seems like the screenwriters much like their titular creation are running from that question the entire movie. In the scope of Salt, the central mystery would have been extrapolated by the second act in a much better movie. By the end of Salt we only know enough to start caring about the character the instant the information arrives, and by then it’s far too late. Salt cannot even claim the infamy of a surprising ending like Unbreakable. There is nothing surprising to me when I learn the first detail about a character whom I know nothing about. I know vague details about her personal life. I know that she is married to a creepy European spider scientist. I bought Billy Bob Thornton, but even this is a stretch. Salt works at a place that looks like a bank but is actually a secret government underground Get Smart-style place. The first scene from the trailer happens and this guy is all, “You’re a Russian spy!” Salt is all, “Nuh uh! I don’t know what he’s talking about! I have to call my husband!” And then she starts running. Run Jolie Run.
We never know what she’s running from or why she’s running from it. We never know her motivation or end goal. We never know why she is so obtuse or why she never meets another character who successfully reveals her human nature. Even the Bourne movies did a better job of characterizing a soulless killer. Hell, even Dexter (and that’s saying something). Chewy Tel E-jar-4 plays a boring government agent chasing her, and Liev Shreiber plays with himself while chasing her. For a movie that stars one of the sexiest women alive, there is nothing sexy about this movie or its direction. In the first scene, Jolie is stripped down to her underwear, but because she is bloodied and beaten, this is a dream deferred. It is like telling the male psyche, “You see this thing you’ve always wanted? It’s dying! Now do you want it?!” and not in a good way. There is some romantic tension with the spider scientist husband at one point, and I think that’s when I went to the bathroom to take the most satisfying leak of all time. Not only had I been drinking a large soda, but it was also the magical time when I could escape from Salt for an instant to consider the movie as a whole. I thought to myself, “What’s happened so far?” And I literally couldn’t piece together one coherent detail. Usually I can say, well, Salt is running from A so she can get to B. Usually there is a MacGuffin in a spy movie. I don’t want to say that Liev Shreiber turns evil and threatens to destroy the White House, but I just did, so I’m sorry. It’s cool though, because Salt murders him in the coolest way imaginable. I would try to download that online if I were you. It’s hilarious. But if I’d wanted to watch Punisher: War Zone again I would have just watched my extended edition blu-ray! Seriously though, nothing happens in this movie. At all. When it ended I walked out of the theater half-furious that I had paid to see nothing and half-gracious that it had been such a mercifully short endurance test. If you are considering this movie, steer clear, because it is easily the worst movie of the year.