"Then you are a Russian spy."
It was certainly an exciting action flick, but overall I felt the plot ended up being far too fantastical to maintain my suspension of disbelief. It's not unusual for me to disagree with critics, but in this case I'm actually pretty satisfied with the current consensus on Rotten Tomatoes - that being 58%.
The plot begins with a pretty vanilla set up. As outlined in the trailer Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is accused of being a Russian spy and subsequently goes on the run to clear her name. Heading up the pursuit are Salts former partner Ted Winter (Liev Shreiber) and an internal affairs type Agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). From this we spin into a typical Bourne style romp of chase scenes, gun fights, lightening fast hand to hand and of course several instances of betrayal and double crosses.
As you might guess, the high point of the movie lies with Jolie and Schreiber who both turn in terrific performances in their respective roles. In fact even the supporting cast add some great stuff to the movie, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor (you might remember him from a little Joss Whedon flick called Serenity) and Olek Krupa who has a brief stint as the Russian President (he's been in a ton of movies of the years, but you might have seen him recently in Burn After Reading). The only casting choice I really question is that of U.S. President Lewis, played by Hunt Block. I just don't think he conveyed a 'Presidential' presence on screen.
SPOILER ALERT - Much of what I am going to discuss from here on out will directly spoil the big plot twists and the ending of the movie, you have been warned!!
- The Russians are the villain. Haven't we outgrown this particular stereotype yet? Maybe if the movie had been made 20-30 years ago that would have gone unnoticed, but today it feels like a bit of a stretch to feature a Cold War era Russian plot.
- The villains plan was to take control of the U.S nuclear stockpile and use it to attack its (Americas) enemies thus kick starting a global war against the United States. This seems rather familiar, oh that's right its the plot of Terminator - apparently Skynet is Russian this time.
- The method by which they will accomplish their dastardly plan is by implanting sleeper agents into the country. By sleeper agents I really do mean sleeper agents, these folks have been in America for upwards of 30 years. These sleepers will infiltrate several levels of law enforcement and government agencies as part of their elaborately complicated plot.
- Salt really is a Russian agent. This might have been clever if they had left it at that, but they had to go one step further and turn her into a triple agent. When you start interjecting this many levels of betrayal and mistrust, you start to get into the realm of Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End - seriously I still can't figure out who was betraying who in that one. As if that wasn't enough, the reason she apparently decides to turn on her Russian masters is because they kidnapped and killed her husband, whom she really was in love with. Of course it was a little hard to get that vibe from the barely 10 minutes of screen time he gets.
- Not only was Salt a sleeper, Winter was as well. On the plus side, Liev Shreiber is great at the whole sinister villain thing, but on the downside what are the odds that two agents (who are in fact partners) would both be sleepers. At this point my suspension of disbelief had flat-lined and I was struggling to finish the showing.
So what were my overall feelings on this one? I was disappointed. I think perhaps it's another case of expecting one thing and getting something else. The trailer, as is so often the case these days, didn't do the movie any favors. It made Salt out to be a straight up Bourne movie with a female in the leading role. Instead it was a mish-mash of action scenes and 'wheels within wheels within wheels' levels of betrayal. As I said, it's all about the suspension of disbelief, and Salt fails to maintain it. From the Russian villains to the convoluted 'evil genius' style plot it was far too out of this world to keep me interested. I will say that the action scenes were great and the acting was on the whole very good, but neither of these things are enough to outweigh the poorly constructed story.