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Salt: Movie Review

Salt stars Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt, Liev Schreiber as Ted Winter, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peabody and Daniel Olbrychski as Orlov. It was directed by Phillip Noyce from a screenplay by Kurt Wimmer. It was released in 2010.

Note: Spoilers are blacked out like like this secret . To reveal a spoiler, just highlight it.

Angelina Jolie in the movie Salt

Salt: Logline

When a CIA agent is accused by a defector of being a Russian deep cover infiltrator who is part of a plot to assassinate the President of Russia and cause a nuclear war, she must decide where her loyalties lie as she takes her revenge on the powerful forces from her past that have set her up.

Salt: Plot Summary

The Walk-in

Salt is a CIA agent, working with Winter and Peabody. They are called in to interrogate a ‘walk-in’ defector, Orlov. The defector claims that the KGB has infiltrated long-term sleeper agents into the USA, brainwashing them as children and then sending them to grow up in the USA in perfect cover. Orlov also claims that the sleepers have been activated and ordered to assassinate the President of Russia during a visit to New York, where he will be attending the funeral of the US Vice President.

The CIA agents dismiss this as disinformation, but the defector claims Salt is is one of the sleeper agents. Peabody says the claim must be investigated. Orlov escapes from the CIA building. Salt is concerned about her husband, who she cannot contact. She escapes from Peabody and goes to her home. She realises that the Russians have kidnapped her husband, and goes on the run. Cue relatively plausible set-piece chase scenes.

See Salt Run

Eventually a flashback shows us that Salt is  a Russian sleeper agent. She attacks the vice-president’s funeral and appears to kill the Russian president before surrendering to the New York police. Cue a highly implausible set-piece car chase as Salt commandeers a police car and Tazers the cops with their own guns.

Having escaped, Salt goes to a ship on the Hudson and meets with Orlov who is the man who trained her. Orlov is holding her husband and is concerned about the fact that she has married against orders. He kills her husband to test Salt’s loyalty. She appears to be unconcerned.

Orlov explains the next step of his plan is to start a nuclear war between Russia and the USA and that Salt’s role is to infiltrate the White House and kill the President. Salt kills Orlov and everyone else on the boat, seemingly in revenge for the death of her husband.

Let’s Kill the President

A fellow sleeper agent gets Salt into the White House and blows himself up so the President will flee to his bunker where Salt can trap him. Winter is with the President and also heads to the bunker. In the bunker, Winter kills everyone except the President.  Unknown to Salt, Winter is also a Russian sleeper agent. He prepares a nuclear strike using the President’s codes.

Salt reaches the bunker. Winter is about to let her in, when he learns that the Russian President is not really dead; Salt had shot him with spider venom that temporarily paralysed him. Salt manages to get into the bunker and fights Winter. At the last second she stops the nuclear attack and kills Winter. The Secret Service take her to a helicopter where she meets Peabody. Salt tells Peabody her side of the story and he believes her but thinks no one else will. He lets her jump from the helicopter into the Potomac River to escape.
Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor in the movie Salt

Salt: Analysis

I’d heard bad things about this movie, so I was pleasantly surprised. It was not at all what I expected, which was a dumb chase thriller. Instead, I suspect the film was actually too complicated for some people. The twists keep on coming, and the core mystery, is the heroine a Russian agent or not, might not be one that appeals to a US thriller audience (tellingly, the film did better internationally than it did in the US). Also, the way Salt lets her husband die, although understandable, doesn’t make her very sympathetic. The implausibility of the action scenes, Salt jumping up, down and sideways much further than is humanly possible being just one criticism, makes the film seem preposterous despite the fact that the plot actually holds together pretty well, with one exception.

That exception is: ‘Why are the Russians doing this?’ It must be only a faction in Russia who are responsible, given they try to kill their own president. That could make sense, but why does this Russian faction try to start a nuclear war? How is that going to help them? The Director’s Cut does answer this question: the conspiracy is not to start a war, but to kill the US president and make an opening for a Russian sleeper agent to take over the USA. But given that, again, why did Winter try to activate the nuclear strike? It beats me.

What’s with all the alternate versions?

The DVD of Salt has three versions: the Original Theatrical Version, the Director’s Cut and the Extended Version. So what are the differences and which version is the best?

The Original Theatrical Version and the Director’s Cut are essentially the same, cuts being mostly to Salt’s husband’s death which is much less gruesome in the theatrical cut in order to get the film a PG-13 (UK 15) rating. The end changes slightly in the Director’s Cut; the  President doesn’t survive and it’s implied that his successor is a Russian sleeper agent.

The Theatrical/Director’s Cut and the Extended Cut differ in the key scene on the boat. Orlov is killed in the theatrical cut but not in the extended cut, setting up a completely different ending: the theatrical cut ends with Salt on the run, the extended cut with her escaping US custody and taking revenge on Orlov, who has returned to Russia.

Personally, I preferred the extended edition. As she doesn’t kill Orlov half way through  the film, the question of Salt’s loyalties is kept open for longer. It makes her more of an anti-hero, which I like.

Salt: Alternative Movie Poster

Here’s my design for an alternate, minimalist poster for Salt . It takes the original poster and simplifies it down to just the instantly recognisable image of Angelina Jolie’s face. I also felt that the original poster marred that iconic image by obscuring her face with the title and a light sans-serif font would be more subtle. Click the poster to see my alternative posters for other spy thrillers.

Alternative minimalist movie posters

Salt: My Rating

Much better than you might expect. Well worth watching if you like plot-led, action-packed spy films.

Want to watch it?

Here’s the trailer:

The DVD is on Amazon US here and Amazon UK here .

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