Friday, August 20, 2010

The Blank Identity

Salt [**]

If there's one thing the Philip Noyce directed- Angelina Jolie starring vehicle Salt can't be faulted for it's wasting time getting down to business. The film opens with Jolie being tortured (off-screen) in North Korea and her husband and some of her CIA fellows arriving in tow to spring her. Next thing you know it's a year later and Salt is preparing to celebrate her anniversary with her husband until some Russian ex-pat shows up and tells her she's a Russian spy who is supposed to assassinate the visiting Russian president at our vice president's funeral. Call it the worst anniversary ever.

Salt is essentially a feature length chase scene in which Jolie spends fifty minutes running away from the CIA proclaiming that she isn't a Russian spy whilst doing all the things a suspected Russian spy does in between bouts of pleading for her co-workers to find her husband. Then she tells the Russians that she's actually pretty fucking American (by murdering all of her handlers) and spends the next portion of the movie running towards them. To be fair they have another traitor in their midst just not Salt. Salt, it should be noted, is and always was an American but she spent some time under Russian interpolation when her parents died there and she was taken in to be trained as the perfect spy in the "mythical" KA program.

For a movie so boldly concerned with the identity and loyalties of a single spy, am I with the Russians or Americans? Did my time in a Korean prison break me in a way Dolph Lundgren from Rocky IV never could? Salt never manages to distinguish itself in any discernible way. The film was written for Tom Cruise but when he jumped ship it became a vehicle for Angelina Jolie. It's also the one film Jolie's been in that never manages to objectify or sexualize her in any way. It was admirable when I thought it was done on purpose, but less so when I discovered they'd just traded one star in for another. Perhaps you could play the "this movie needs a star" card, but really it doesn't. The charisma of Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor is dialed down a great deal, although in the spirit of honesty they are character actors with leading men looks who can't help being badasses, but in this film they just need to be faces. Andre Braugher's inclusion in a blink and you miss it role speaks as much to the idea that we need those who can blend in more than we need stars as the scenes in which Jolie is buried under latex so that she goes unrecognized at the start of the film's climax. What I'm trying to say is, in this case, the star makes not one iota of difference because they bring no sense of identity to the role even though they bring movie star baggage with them. This casting switcheroo effectively kills the tension and negates the crux of the film.

The action scenes in the film are not bad. I'm a sucker for a good car jump and the climax has a well staged close quarters shootout and the shaky cam doesn't take away much at all from the coherence of the action but it happens to someone we never know at all. When you're movie begs the question "Who is Salt?" Make sure the answer matters.

No comments: