Movie Review: Salt (***1/2)

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Salt.  99 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Phillip Noyce.  Written by Kurt Wimmer.  Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

In the new spy thriller Salt, Angelina Jolie earns her paycheck and then some by jumping off bridges onto moving cars, dyeing her hair from blonde to black, and gunning down a lot of people (or at least giving them flesh wounds).  In the process, she may just have secured herself a reliable action franchise, in the vein of the Bourne trilogy or director Phillip Noyce's own Jack Ryan films (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger).  Jolie is still scary skinny, but she's also one of the few actresses who could convincingly carry off a role like this - one, it should be said, that was originally intended for a man (Tom Cruise, who passed due to the similarities to his M:I franchise).  I haven't always been a fan of Jolie, but her work here is nimble yet tough, and, as far as action movies go, Salt is pretty darn good.  Clocking in at a scant 90 minutes (leaving out the end credits), it's fast-paced and offers old school thrills, with some moderately clever twists and turns throughout.
Jolie is Evelyn Salt - a C.I.A. officer who goes on the run when a Russian informant walks into headquarters and tells her she' s a sleeper Russian spy - one of many who have been placed in the highest reaches of U.S. government.  Hot on her trail is her coolheaded and compassionate partner (Liev Schreiber) and a by-the-books agent (the always-welcome Chiwetell Ejiofor), who's detetrmined to take her down. The movie suggests early on that Salt goes on the run to save her husband (the jackass German officer from the cellar scene in Inglourious Basterds).  A sympathetic and heroic motive to run, sure, but why does she seem so guilty? 
Writer Kurt Wimmer throws just enough vagaries and red herrings at the audience that we're constantly wondering if Salt is good or bad.  Is she really a Russian spy?  And who else can be trusted?  Hint: not everyone is who they seem.  I was pleasantly surprised by some of the dramatic twists taken - particularly one so-called "death" - probably the best "throw 'em off our scent" moment since Commissioner Gordon bought it in The Dark Knight.
The previews for Salt have been underwhelming to say the least.  Don't judge it by just that - the movie is much better.  Director Noyce clearly knows his way around the muscular action movie tropes.  Salt may not be too original (shades of Bourne and The Fugitive, even The Manchurian Candidate, abound) and the action gets a bit too ludicrous at times, but the concept is solid, the movie is well-made, and Jolie makes for a great action heroine.  The movie ends with a cliffhanger - obviously setting up a framework for Salt 2: Saltier.  Unlike other attempts at this (ahem, The Last Airbender, ahem), Salt is one wannabe franchise worth pursuing.  And it goes great with popcorn.

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Tags: Angelina Jolie, film, movies, reviews, Salt

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