Skip to main content

Tonight, you will kill America's President.

Salt
(Director’s Cut)
(2010)

(SPOILERS) Not so many years back, if you wanted a kickass female action hero, you called popular alleged Illuminati Satanist Angelina Jolie’s agent before Charlize Theron’s. She was Lara Croft – the big screen original, for what that’s worth (not much) – met Brad Pitt while trying to shoot him up, and tutored James McAvoy in the ways of the super assassin. Salt was the last such vehicle she headlined and seems to have received its share of invective over the years, but it’s one I rather liked, a ludicrously pulpy spy thriller – whatever surface comparisons were made with sleeper poster girl Anna Chapman were just that – that refused to stint on, relished even, its absurd developments and proceeded to its destination at a breakneck pace. Having heard the Director’s Cut improved on a few things, I thought I’d give it a look.


I’m not sure it does, really. It’s about the same all in all, but with a twist ending that invokes, of all movies, G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (it is a decent twist, to be fair), as it’s implied the new US President is another sleeper agent (the picture was already in danger of reaching Murder on the Orient Express levels of having virtually everyone in positions of power in on it). Ironically, this seems exactly the sort of cliffhanger you’d expect franchise-minded studio heads to favour, yet they wet with the much less intriguing open one in the theatrical cut, simply having Salt leap out of a helicopter, with Chiwetel Eijofor’s permission, in order to track down remaining KA-12 agents; they also opted for it over the more final Extended Edition in which, rather than killing Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), on the barge prior to the climactic sequence, she does so after escaping, blowing up the sleeper training facility to boot. Which is all a bit too neat and pat.


I well recall the movie’s sometime development hell, with it initially announced as a Tom Cruise vehicle under the title Edwin A Salt about three years before it eventually got made and released (Cruise ultimately opted out because he felt Salt was too close to Ethan Hunt – which didn’t stop him from making Knight and Day instead). Kurt Wimmer penned the screenplay, one of his better post-Equilibrium forays, which include dire remakes (Total Recall and Point Break) and hacky genre vehicles (Street Kings, Law Abiding Citizen). He reportedly had his draft for Salt 2 nixed by Jolie back in 2012, but if there’s little chance of it being revived with its original star, never fear, as Sony has a TV version planned.


Philip Noyce, a director as comfortable making smaller, more politicised pictures (Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American) as journeyman Hollywood blockbusters, had previously worked with Jolie on the execrable The Bone Collector, and does a more than presentable job here. The key to Salt’s success is ensuring it maintains such a pace that you don’t have sufficient time to debate its debatable plot progressions, almost all of which require incredibly unlikely circumstances to align at precise intersections in order to play out as they do. Noyce succeeds admirably, and the picture comes in at such a tidy length (still just 104 minutes in the longer Director’s Cut) that you’d assume, in the current age of bloat, it had been hacked to pieces by the studio (there were reshoots, but the studio was quite confident about the $110m budget picture, which went on to make almost $300m worldwide).


It might have been more interesting if Salt had no qualms about being a Russian sleeper and was all for carrying out her mission (certainly, her wet blanket arachnologist husband (August Diehl) does nothing to convince us she’d switch allegiances for love). Or even more so if the Director’s Cut had Liev Schreiber’s also-sleeper agent and CIA colleague Ted Winter besting her (I know, that was never going to happen). Or he’d been the focus of the plot (Schreiber had already played a sleeper in Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate remake half a decade earlier), since Schreiber has a tendency to seemingly effortlessly wrestle attention from his lead co-star any time he’s in anything, and Salt is no exception. The most fun to be had in the movie is when he reveals his true status and promptly goes kill crazy on a room filled with presidential staff. And President.


One might argue the McGuffin objective of the plot (aiming nuclear missiles at Mecca and Tehran so as to “enrage two billion Muslins”) is rather redundant, since the US has achieved that objective with no outside interference, but this is Hollywood fantasy, logic being entirely by the by. Jolie’s expectedly impassive in the lead, which suits the performance, although her thrashing about with those stick-thin arms and legs in action scenes takes a bit of getting used to. On the Ethan Hunt comparison front, at one point she dons prosthetics to infiltrate the White House that leave her looking surprisingly(?) like her brother. Ejiofor provides solid support in a thankless role, Andre Braugher is blink and you’ll miss him, while Corey Stoll shows us he didn’t have any hair long before he was getting lead roles. Salt’s good fun, despite the naysayers, and you could do worse than take in a double bill of this and Atomic Blonde. Which cut, though? There isn’t much in it, but I’d avoid the Extended.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I didn't kill her. I just relocated her.

The Discovery (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Discovery assembles not wholly dissimilar science-goes-metaphysical themes and ideas to Douglas Trumbull's ill-fated 1983 Brainstorm, revolving around research into consciousness and the revelation of its continuance after death. Perhaps the biggest discovery, though, is that it’s directed and co-written by the spawn of Malcom McDowell and Mary Steenburgen (the latter cameos) – Charlie McDowell – of hitherto negligible credits but now wading into deep philosophical waters and even, with collaborator Justin Lader, offering a twist of sorts.