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.

Popular posts from this blog

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

I work for the guys that pay me to watch the guys that pay you. And then there are, I imagine, some guys that are paid to watch me.

The Day of the Dolphin (1973) (SPOILERS) Perhaps the most bizarre thing out of all the bizarre things about The Day of the Dolphin is that one of its posters scrupulously sets out its entire dastardly plot, something the movie itself doesn’t outline until fifteen minutes before the end. Mike Nichols reputedly made this – formerly earmarked for Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson and Sharon Tate, although I’m dubious a specific link can be construed between its conspiracy content and the Manson murders - to fulfil a contract with The Graduate producer Joseph Levine. It would explain the, for him, atypical science-fiction element, something he seems as comfortable with as having a hairy Jack leaping about the place in Wolf .

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

Gizmo caca!

Gremlins (1984) I didn’t get to see Gremlins at the cinema. I wanted to, as I had worked myself into a state of great anticipation. There was a six-month gap between its (unseasonal) US release and arrival in the UK, so I had plenty of time to devour clips of cute Gizmo on Film ’84 (the only reason ever to catch Barry Norman was a tantalising glimpse of a much awaited movie, rather than his drab, colourless, reviews) and Gremlins trading cards that came with bubble gum attached (or was it the other way round?). But Gremlins ’ immediate fate for many an eager youngster in Britain was sealed when, after much deliberation, the BBFC granted it a 15 certificate. I had just turned 12, and at that time an attempt to sneak in to see it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind. I’d just have to wait for the video. I didn’t realise it then (because I didn’t know who he was as a filmmaker), but Joe Dante’s irrepressible anarchic wit would have a far stronger effect on me than the un