The transition from concept to screen can be a difficult and testing one for a movie. There are so many steps and barriers that have to be addressed before a single image is committed to film. It doesn’t help if there are unforeseen circumstances that put a spanner in the works. Salt was originally conceived as an action vehicle for the actor Tom Cruise. He turned down the chance to star, instead taking up the offer to be in the disappointing action film Knight & Day. Rather than going to the next obvious male star available, the film was re-worked. The central character was re-written as a female. Script changes were made for the change of gender and Angelina Jolie was subsequently cast in the title role.
The film opens with Evelyn Salt in a rather harrowing situation. Stripped, bloodied and bound, she is being interrogated by the North Korean authorities. Eventually she is released as part of a prisoner exchange program and is re-united with her husband who campaigned for her release. Some time later, back in the US, Salt is working at a local CIA office when she is called in to interview a Russian who may have some intelligence information of value. The outcome of the conversation is that Salt is accused of being a Russian sleeper agent. Her superiors try to detain her for questioning but she manages to flee, convinced that she is being set up.
It should not come as a surprise just how good Angelina Jolie’s performance is in the movie. She has handled previous roles that have a heavy element of action in the likes of Wanted and Mr & Mrs Smith. She gives a fine performance as the enigmatic and very capable CIA agent. The role calls for a high degree of physical ability to handle the complex and entertaining action scenes. Her naturally detached persona lends itself nicely to the film and the character as there is always a doubt regarding her origins and motives. Jolie delivers with apparent ease and considerable style.
The supporting cast are of a high calibre with Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejifor doing some suitably entertaining scenery chewing in their roles of Salt’s CIA bosses. Both obviously relish the chance to be involved of an action film with a higher standard than the normal fare. It was a nice touch for Evelyn to be married to Mike (August Diehl), a German national. His performance adds to the mystery of Salt’s past and lends another possible link to the Russian agent’s claim.
The film zips along at a terrific pace with fast cuts and dramatic music accentuating the frenetic action. Unlike other films in the genre the direction and staging of the action scenes have clearly been approached with some care. There is no confusion as to what is happening and to who. What keeps the film together as a spectacle is the strength of the writing, the story and the character development. The film twists and turns from beginning to end but it never gets too confusing. Of course there has to be an element of mystery and sudden change to keep the interest up, but it never takes a step too far where it would be very easy to lose the audience.
It is encouraging to see a movie studio take such a risk with a big budget movie. There are few movies out there of this scale that feature a strong female lead. With the success of the film and the ongoing talk of a a sequel it bodes well for future projects in the same vein.
Overall an entertaining and action packed film with a distinct and watchable star. Recommended.