The Story - A Bare Bones Version
Jolie stars as CIA Agent Evelyn Salt, a tough as nails professional who we meet as she's being held and tortured in North Korea. But no matter what they do to her, she doesn't break. Salt won't admit she's a spy and it looks like she's in for a long stint in a tiny cell. However, her CIA superior, Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber), unexpectedly shows up for a prisoner exchange. Salt, knowing this goes against every rule the US government's set up regarding spies, is initially shocked and then emotionally overwhelmed when Winter tells her the exchange was instigated by her husband, Mike (August Diehl), an expert on spiders (his profession plays into the plot, but I'm not disclosing how). He hounded everyone he could think of until they finally agreed to do something to bring her home. She's grateful and touched, and less like a hard-nosed agent at that point in time than at any other in the film.
The warm and fuzzy moment flies by and then it's back to the serious business of protecting America. When a Russian defector named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) shows up to turn himself in promising to reveal an important secret, Salt (an expert on Russia) is given the task of doing the initial interrogation. Orlov claims there's a Russian spy within the CIA who's going to kill the Russian president at the funeral of the American vice president. And the spy's name is...Evelyn Salt.
The Acting and the Bottom Line
Jolie is such a commanding presence on screen that everyone else around her in Salt stays in the background, with the exception of Schreiber who's strong enough to go toe-to-toe with her in the film's more dramatic moments. Even Chiwetel Ejiofor slips into also-ran mode as a throw-away supporting player in what's thoroughly Jolie's film.
Although some of the action sequences are jaw-dropping, beautifully executed stunts, the problem is that in a story that's supposed to be grounded in reality, the stunts are so unbelievably outrageous - Jolie leaps off bridges without so much as a scratch on her body or a smudge on her clothing - the dialogue-driven scenes hold little weight because the action breaks from that reality. The premise of a spy ready to kill a Russian president in order to set off a world war isn't all that far-fetched, but by surrounding that plot line with chase scenes nearly as crazy as in comic book inspired superhero films, it confuses the message. A little more time spent on character development and a little less time spent showing what a bad-ass Jolie by way of totally unbelievable stunts would have helped immensely. As it is, Salt's okay summer fun though disappointing and ultimately forgettable.
Salt was directed by Phillip Noyce and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.
Theatrical Release: July 23, 2010