Sunday, August 29, 2010

Movie Review: Salt (2010)

Directed by Phillip Noyce (2010)

No Spices Needed

Go see it. It's a damn good thriller.

Since this is a spoiler-free movie review, there's only so much you can say about a thriller with the tagline: Who is Salt? What I can tell you can be summed up in seven words (above), but I'm not sure how convincing it would be if I read a review like that, so let's delve into what we can tell you.

As I've mentioned in other reviews, Angelina Jolie is the most convincing female action hero alive. The only one close is Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil) and she's really a distant second. The script for Salt cements Jolie's action icon status by doing something a bit different: it keeps her dialogue to a minimum. She speaks, but there are long stretches of the movie where she carries it with her kinetic energy and charisma alone. And her eyes. There's a lot going on in the close-ups, not the least of which is an impressive array of emotions and a fierce intelligence that has not only seen it all, but lived it as well.

As we now know, the part was originally written for Tom Cruise, who chose Knight and Day instead, and the script was altered to fit Jolie. Although Cruise could have handled it (his action prowess is underrated) Jolie is a better fit here. Her ability to carry ambivalence as well as emotional complexities is better suited to the role. There's weight to her, a certain sadness, that makes the movie more than the sum of its parts. And its parts are good. Schreiber is excellent, as he always is, and I'm still confused why he isn't a star. Is it because his first name is Liev? I'm not talking about race, but simple pronunciation. He brings tangible believability to every role he plays. And in a thriller that never stops from the moment it starts, you need actors to help provide heft for their characters, because even great action scripts don't have much time for character development.

The film is shot in a linear fashion, and cut quickly, but it's easy enough to follow. It's a simple way to distinguish good action movies from the rest. Bad action films are cut and thrown together like an overcooked stir-fry -- you never know what vegetable you're eating because they all taste like chicken. That never happens in Salt, which grips you from the opening scene and never lets go. It reminded me at times of The Bourne Identity, albeit for different reasons. (And no, Salt is not about amnesia.) When the movie ended I looked at my watch in surprise. I hadn't even noticed the time.

As for the themes of the movie, I think you'll be surprised at some of the questions that might come up on your way out of the theatre. And even if there's no discussion, there's one thing you'll all be able to say to the people waiting for the next showing; "Go see it. It's a damn good thriller."

**** (out of five)

Copyright Stephen Burns 2010