Healthy-eating types are always recommending that we reduce the amount of salt in our diets… and yet, if you buy the DVD of Salt (2010), you get three full variants of the same movie to gorge on! First is the standard “Theatrical Cut”… then comes the “Director’s Cut”, which boasts a heftier body-count and a twisty ending… and then there’s “The Extended Cut”, which, despite its name, also boasts a slightly different plot and pay-off from the original. Having never seen the movie before, I opted for the longest version, which is the Director’s Cut… and while each of the iterations is fairly ridiculous in its own way, I think this version is the most enjoyably absurd.
For those who don’t know, Salt stars a stick-figure drawing of Angelina Jolie as ‘Evelyn Salt’, a CIA agent who is outed as a Russian sleeper agent by a walk-in defector, and then goes on the run to try to clear her name by shooting a lot of people and blowin’ shit up. Wheee! There isn’t much more to it than that, really… just a lot of running, jumping, fighting, shooting, and ludicrous twists that will stretch your suspension of disbelief to breaking point. My favourite plot-hole revolves around the sleeper agents’ convoluted backstory: They are stolen at birth from Russian couples with suitable athletic/strategic skills, and raised in a secret training camp, where they are taught all about American language and culture, trained as ruthless assassins, and indoctrinated into stinky, stinky Socialism… then, when a convenient American family happens to pass through the country, Soviet agents will engineer a tragic accident to kill off the parents, so that they can replace that family’s wholesome, apple-pie lovin’ kid with one of their own nefarious Commie cuckoos. Oh no! The only teeny-tiny flaw in this otherwise ingenious plan is that it means every single one of these supposedly undetectable sleeper agents has it noted on their personal files that they were tragically orphaned in Russia as children, before returning to The States and taking up jobs in the military and secret services. I imagine an experienced spy-hunter would spot that pattern pretty quickly! Oy…
Ultimately though with a movie like this, words and ideas are secondary to action, and I’ll admit there are a lot of fun stunts to enjoy here… even if it isn’t always clear whether we should actually be cheering Salt on, or siding with her pursuers. Without wishing to give any spoilers away, assessing how “heroic” she is kinda depends on which version you watch… and your definition of “heroism”, I guess! Personally, I’m quite sympathetic to the Socialist cause (or, at least, Democratic Socialist Feminism), and I’m sick of seeing Europeans demeaned and vilified in American movies and TV shows, so I found my loyalties slightly divided here… obviously I wouldn’t actually want to live under Totalitarian Communist rule, but for a while there it was fun to pretend that Salt might be a super-powered revolutionary, intent on bringing Western Capitalism to its knees… although I doubt the studio would have poured so much of their own capital into something as subversive as that, of course.
As for Jolie’s performance… um… her character was a bit of a cypher, really, so all I could focus on was how skinny and frail she looked. There’s a fawning featurette on the DVD titled “The Ultimate Female Action Hero”, which shows how involved Jolie was in all of her stunts, and I don’t doubt that she could quite easily kick my flabby arse… but I can’t help preferring to see my action heroines with a little more muscle on their bones. Ironically, Michelle Rodriguez often mentions on commentary tracks that she has trouble with running/diving scenes, because she’s a heavy smoker and has no lung capacity to speak of… but the point is that she looks fit on camera, even if she’s panting and wheezing as soon as they call “Cut!”. Movies like this are all about the spectacle, after all. Shame they couldn’t have cast Zoe Bell in the role, but I’m not sure the Kiwis have any sleeper agents… OR DO THEY???