Friday, August 20, 2010
Disclaimer: Yes, I think Salt is just as good as Inception. If this offends you, go elsewhere!
Salt is, for my money, the best action thriller to come out of the mainstream in a while. In short, Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a crack CIA agent who is pulled in last minute to interrogate a Russian walk-in, who figures her as a sleeper agent. Action, intrigue and mystery ensues. I was dazzled and enraptured for it's 95 minute length by it's impeccable craft and nervy filmmaking; Salt is no revolution in this genre or any genre. What it does it is tweaks and heightens tropes and cliches of the genre to make itself as original and enjoyable as it is.
Directed by Philip Noyce, of the excellent Rabbit-Proof Fence and a host of not-so-excellent thrillers, the film moves along at a clip. It is economical, we get as much information as we need, and then we move onto the next plot point, the next fight scene, the next piece of awesome. It is a fleet film, but the editing isn't as jump-cut-happy as the Bourne trilogy, the last of which shockingly won the Oscar for Most Editing. This is most prominent in the fight scenes, it has become frighteningly common during fight scenes for the editor to cut on action, not to let the stuntman/action carry through the motion and land a hit. There's also an equally frightening lack of geography in these fight scenes, you have no idea where any actor is in the scene and it's disarming for all the wrong reasons. However, in Salt, there's just that split-second extra after a cut, we see the actor land a hit, we know where they are in the room. It's a small change, but the film is infinitely better because of it.
Visually and aurally the film is impeccably crafted, but perhaps too calculated. This is to be expected of a calculated mainstream action film though, so it's hardly unforgivable. James Newton Howard provides a typical action score, there's vervy, uncomfortable synths that set the action on edge and that speed up just at the right moment for the fight scenes. Robert Elswit has as much command of the image as he always does; the cinematography is grand if unimaginative here. It's never at a detriment to the film and seems almost invisible, never did I go "WOW! THAT'S A GREAT SHOT!" which was the point, I guess.
And we come to maybe my favourite part of the film, the screenplay. If there was any justice in the world, this would be up for awards. At the very least, it needs to be used as a teaching tool. Just like the film, it's fleet and economical. We don't linger on exposition, we don't linger on "she has a husband" fluff, it's in and out. The audience is given as much information as they need. This is especially important where the twists are concerned; I figured them out earlier then they came, but I feel like I figured them out at the exact right point so I was in on it just before the screenplay told me what was up. Early enough to feel smart and satisfied. It's a perfectly-crafted screenplay, even if it lacks a little depth.
Okay, I lied. My favourite part of this film is its calling card, Angelina Jolie. Jolie is perfect for this role, and she gives a more-than-decent performance in the role. It's a hard role to perfect, Evelyn Salt is a character that has to keep us guessing from the second act all the way into the last act. Jolie keeps us on her side while keeping her innate aura of mystery and distance around her. It's a balancing act, but it is what the film is sold on. "Who is Salt?" indeed.
Is Salt a masterpiece? Not at all. There are occasionally clunky moments, but they're brief and skimmed over. The coda feels tacked on, egging on for a sequel which I hope will come. And some of the visual effects aren't integrated as well as they should be; they seem to press up against the frankly masterful stunt work. But as far as action films go, as far as intelligent action thrillers go, this is an iconic entry into the genre, and should be as well-remembered in the years to come as Die Hard is. A/A-.