At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Salt “2010”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Salt “2010”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Action Thriller/ Stars:  Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski, Daniel Pearce, August Diehl, Olek Krupa, Hunt Block, Corey Stoll, Andre Braugher/Runtime: 100 minutes

I think it is reasonably safe to start this review off by saying that in my distinct opinion film helmer of some renown Phillip Noyce is in many respects a cinematic pie equal to the scribe who manages to get out into the world those addicting, but not exactly iconic pulpy entries in the thrilling world of espionage that you more often than not can usually find for sale at a pair of distinct locations: whilst checking out at your friendly neighborhood grocery store or in one of the many stores at the airport whilst you are in the process of waiting for boarding to begin to wherever it is you are planning to head out to. I say this because slices of cinematic pie that this man has helmed such as the pair of Harrison Ford-led Jack Ryan movies that are Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games from the 90s and the Val Kilmer-led cinematic adaptation of The Saint from 1997 respectively are all engaging if not exactly memorable to the vast majority of movie goers entries in the genre known as Thrillers which provide audiences with decent enough entertainment value in a very well made film, but as stated previously aren’t exactly going to be seen as the best of the best or even masterpieces for that matter. To that end, it should be noted that Noyce’s slice of cinematic pie from 2010 Salt is also one that is most assuredly not exactly going to make any best of 2010 lists by any stretch of the imagination. At the same time though, this is honestly a very fine movie in its own right especially when taking into account both the work done on both ends of the camera, but how good its narrative is as well. Indeed Salt manages to be a sneakily pretty darn good little slice of cinematic pie since on the surface it looks like just another entry in the genre of which it is a part, but that upon viewing it reveals itself to be a riveting and intriguing story that has quite a few distinct twists all whilst providing some wonderful action beats and some decent work by a gifted cast in the process.

The plot is as follows: Salt begs its riveting yarn as we witness that a woman by the name of Evelyn Salt who, amongst other noteworthy details about her and her life, has recently been spending some quite unwelcome time as a “guest” of no less a host than the military of North Korea. A visit that, incidentally, has seen our intrepid heroine repeatedly and passionately denied that she is a member of the espionage community, made it through many a torture session, and has now been released post haste into the care of her colleague/fellow operative at the CIA Ted Winter and her love interest soon to be husband Mike. A man who I guess I should tell you for….reasons is a member of that unique scientific community known as arachnology who we also learn has recently discovered a new type of arachnid in the DPRK. To that end we see that a year or 2 later, Salt has managed to adjust fairly well back to the world she knew before her capture, but things are set to take an unexpected turn when before she is set to head out to celebrate her and Mike’s wedding anniversary, she and Winter are briefed on the untimely emergence in their office of a defector from glorious Russia who is making claims that he is in possession of critical intel that could curb a pending calamity on a global scale. Incidentally, not if it matters or anything, but this defector is claiming that the President of Russia is to be taken out by an undercover sleeper cell embedded here in the U.S. and that agent’s name is Evelyn Salt gasp. Suffice it to say that when the Agency’s 21st century updating of a polygraph confirms he is being truthful, a fellow agent by the name of Peabody “politely requests” that our titular heroine be detained to answer a few questions. Suffice it to say our heroine doesn’t exactly comply with this request and flees from the building and now finds herself on a mission not only to evade the team of agents sent to bring her in, but to also discover what is really going on here before either a) she is taken in, or b) the Russian President is murdered since if the latter occurs it might just be the lynchpin to trigger no more and no less than World War 3.

Now looking at this from an exterior point of view, the slice of cinematic pie that is Salt is one that looks very much like it is nothing special with “typical” scribbled across the front of it, stylish and well-done in all fairness, but one that doesn’t exactly make you think that this film is going to offer you anything except a typical “she’s a spy, but now she is being forced to flee in order to clear her name before the worst case scenario occurs” narrative for this particular genre of movie magic. Indeed, I won’t lie to you dear reader: the beginning of this film is one that seems to fit that to a t in that it seems to indicate this film is one that is both well-done from a filmmaking perspective and enjoyable from a “well I’ve seen this a million times, but at least this isn’t as bad as some of the others” point of view. Once this slice of cinematic pie changes gears and presents you with its first big surprise however, I promise you will be quite astonished as we see that film helmer Phillip Noyce and scribe Kurt Wimmer will a delightful degree of skill toss any idea you might have about where this is going to say nothing of clichés unique to this genre out the open window of an 18-wheeler going full speed down the highway and trade it for something that is novel and riveting that goes for the jugular and doesn’t let up for a single second.  Indeed this is one slice of cinematic pie that once that first gear shift occurs decides to head dead-on to a delightful resolution that endeavors to throw what you think is going to happen completely off-kilter. Perhaps the best thing though is how the twists in this film are not ones you can see coming from a mile away. Indeed film helmer Noyce does a wonderful job at ensuring that they are kept hidden until just the right moment so that when they are revealed they are able to surprise and astonish you in the best way possible.

Now although this slice of cinematic pie’s best ingredient is most assuredly its narrative, this slice of cinematic pie also is operating with several strong ingredients including top-notch helmsmanship, riveting action beats, and wonderful performances from a game cast that aid the twists in being that much more effective. Now right off the bat I will let you know that at first glance Angeline Jolie does not look like she is onboard even remotely in this as the titular heroine. Yet as we get further along in the narrative labyrinth and certain twists are unfurled before our eyes, we see the subtleties in her acting up that point begin to reveal themselves as well thus strengthening her work she does later in the movie. Suffice it to say then that Jolie’s performance in this is quite riveting as we see that genuine pathos is just as integral to the odyssey her character goes on as her skill as a trained operative. Indeed for how multilayered this material may have been on the printed page, this slice of cinematic pie still required an actress who was able to comprehend and showcase the complexity of both the main character and the world she is pushed headfirst into and Jolie is able to give us that and so much more to the point that her performance is perhaps the best representation of this whole film: unassuming at first yet more three-dimensional and riveting as time goes on. We also get wonderful support work in this from Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I have yet to see give a bad performance, and Live Schreiber as colleagues of our heroine albeit ones with differing methods on how best to bring her in. Finally, we see that behind the camera film helmer Phillip Noyce has a wonderful comprehension on just how best to make action beats operate to their fullest capacity. As a result, this slice of cinematic pie takes on quite the take no prisoners mood and gives us moments of action that are riveting, but also realistic as well. Yes this slice of cinematic pie might take some artistic licenses here and there, but by and large the action beats are rooted in a realism that aids immensely the suspense and engagement factor of what we see play out on screen. Yes this slice of cinematic pie was never meant to win any awards by any stretch, but as a thinking person’s action film it is very well done indeed.

All in all I am pleased, and a little bit surprised to tell you the truth dear reader, to let you know that the 2010 slice of cinematic pie that is Salt is actually a quite intelligent and very well assembled entry in the genre of movie magic that is the Action Thriller that is simply not satisfied with just being the kind of movie that checks all the boxes and goes along the typical formula path all the way to the end. Indeed this latest slice of cinematic pie from film helmer Phillip Noyce is easily one of his best in a while as not only does it showcase some truly top-notch action beats, but it also regales us with a narrative that is as riveting and twisty as both fans of this genre and just the casual movie goer could aspire for it to be. As for the twists and curves in the road, I promise that you will be satisfied with them. Ultimately, I know that this slice of cinematic pie most likely looked like that one Thriller you’ve seen a million times, but thanks to the aforementioned ingredients and some fairly good work from its cast, I can safely say that Salt is without a doubt in my mind one of the more delightful cinematic surprises from that long gone year known as 2010. On a scale of 1-5 I give Salt “2010” a solid 3.5 out of 5.