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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Salt’ adds much needed flavor to bland summer movie season

    Ever since “”The Bourne Identity”” and its sequels showed that a spy fighting physical and psychological demons on the big screen could equal great international success, many moviemakers have tried their hands at duplicating this template. So it was inevitable that someone would try to create a female counterpart to Jason Bourne. “”Salt”” is the latest entry in the spy movie genre, and it succeeds when the action scenes and plot overpower the attempts at an emotional attachment.

    “”Salt”” opens with Angelina Jolie being tortured in a North Korean prison, denying accusations that she is a spy and insisting she is no more than Evelyn Salt, a businesswoman for an oil company. Two years later, CIA agent Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) escorts her outside to meet her soon-to-be fiancé, Mike Krause (August Diehl), who had been tirelessly petitioning for her release. Stateside, Jolie is preparing to retire from her job as a CIA agent, naturally, to a life of domestic bliss. But with one last interrogation with a Russian defector who makes a major accusation, Jolie finds her loyalty questioned and her lives unraveling.

    Jolie plays Salt with the right pitch. As a wife, her growing concern for her husband’s safety becomes infectious. Unfortunately, the flashbacks of her relationship with Krause detract from rather than reinforce this emotional thread. Jolie looks at ease as a skilled spy with questionable motives. Chiwetel Ejiofor, as counterintelligence agent Peabody, and Schreiber are tasked with capturing Salt, and the two play off each other well, even if their actions are fairly predictable contrasts for much of the movie. Peabody is skeptical and prone to shoot first without asking questions, while Winter is levelheaded and willing to believe his friend is not a double agent.

    True to its “”Who is Salt?”” marketing campaign, the film plays up the mystery of its title character fairly well. The ambiguity behind Salt’s actions and motives are shown with clear cinematography, if not necessarily clear explanations. Sadly, the fact that the spy is a woman is the only major deviation in the genre of the past decade (excluding Hong Kong films). For better or worse, many of the major action sequences are distilled from other established franchises. Jolie performs the now requisite parkour — if Bourne and the newest Bond can do it, why not her? She improvises a weapon out of office supplies, and even undergoes a makeup transformation a la Ethan Hunt from “”Mission: Impossible II.””

    Even the opening torture scene in North Korea recalls “”Die Another Day.”” Thankfully, Jolie makes us forget all of this by anchoring the movie with moments of understated acting and a palpable energy when it’s time to fight.

    In the end, the best way to watch “”Salt”” is to imagine you are reading a bestselling author’s latest spy novel that you bought at the airport: It will certainly be entertaining enough to distract you during a long, boring flight, but don’t expect to re-read it after you touch down.

     

    Final Grade: B-

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