You disappoint me, Salt.
Inevitably, when I am excited for a film, it disappoints me. When my customers ask for my opinion on something like, say, Clash of the Titans (2010) I say something along the lines of, “Well, it’s good if you don’t have any expectations for it. Good brainless fun.” Unfortunately, I did not follow my own advice when watching Salt.
I saw the trailer for Salt many months ago and have been excited ever since. It’s no secret that I (though I am usually not interested in women otherwise) have the major hots for Angelina Jolie. I love her. Love love love her. I don’t care about that Brad and Jennifer business and was Angelina the other woman stuff. Attraction happened. (And why am I the only person who seems to remember that interview Brad and Jennifer did when they first got married and they said (paraphrased), “We’re just in this to see where it goes. We’re not sure about the marriage thing.” Sounds like a real healthy marriage.) Anyway. I guess I expected Salt to be female Bourne. I expected a badass woman on the run, and maybe some interesting is she or isn’t she a spy drama.
Problem 1. The scale was too big. The Bourne movies, although they contain globe-hopping adventures, are contained to a single agency, and a small group of people searching for the one person. While the CIA is the main agency looking to apprehend Salt, she is at one point (very strangely) in NYPD custody. This is after she allegedly kills someone very important. Really? NYPD custody? But that’s just a sidenote. The American and Russian presidents are the figures in danger. While I guess that raises the stakes, I just thought it was too epic. Too large for mediocre screenwriting, which leads me to--
Problem 2. Shoddy script writing. There were moments of pretty shaky dialogue in the beginning, but towards the end, poor Liev Schrieber (who is fantastic, by the way) is speaking in Russian that translates to horrible, contrived English. “I have the honor of…” (I don’t want to spoil it too much). It probably is better in Russian (I hope) but I turned to my brother and said, “What the fuck is this dialogue?” Really. Awful. Also, after I slept for a couple hours and turned my thoughts again to Salt the next day, I realized there was a pretty big issue with the inciting incident. The trailer shows the scene as well, where the Russian guy in the custody of the CIA reveals that Salt is a double agent. BIG SPOILER- this is supposed to be Salt’s trigger, so that she knows it is time to take out the important guy she’s supposed to take out. This trigger, however, makes it so much more difficult for her to take out that important guy. It puts her on the run from the CIA. The Russian guy could have easily triggered her at, I don’t know, a restaurant? Then she wouldn’t be on the run. They wouldn’t know she’s trying to do something terrible, which they know because she’s running away from them! WTF!? There is some merit to the argument that the Russian guy just likes to mess with her to test her loyalty. Putting her in danger, however, put their grand plans in jeopardy. She could have been captured at any time! Ugh. I desist.
Problem 3. It’s a cool concept that audience members are unaware of Salt’s true intentions. It goes on too long, though. At one point, I was thinking to myself, okay, I’d really like to know what the hell she’s up to. Not because I was curious, but because I was irritated. There was too much push and pull. The plot wasn’t good enough or fleshed out enough to allow for such ambiguity.
Problem 4. I didn’t buy the whole Russian thing. Granted, it’s pretty easy to make some sort of Middle East nation/organization/person the bad guy. The reason it’s easy, though, is because it is timely. I think it was wise of Iron Man’s writers to switch their antagonist from an Asian to a Middle Eastern group. The source material was written when Asian nations (i.e. Vietnam [right? I’m pretty sure I’m not pulling this out of my ass]) were a bigger threat than the Middle Eastern nations. In today’s world, the audience is more afraid of Al Quaeda. A Russian threat is not timely. Salt’s writers did try to explain that away with a “Russia’s gonna be back on top” motivation, but I didn’t really care. Russians don’t have resonance with me (in the sense that they threaten my nation kind of way).
The Good: Opening scene was brutal and emotional. Good fight choreography. Angelina’s subtle twitches and facial expressions that made me believe her heart wasn’t invested in the Russian spy business. Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor were fantastic supporting cast.
It’s my fault, I suppose, for expecting Salt to be Bourne. But I love the Bourne films so much, I suppose they just set the bar too high. Perhaps Matt Damon should have been in Salt…maybe then…