The perpetual escape: Angelina Jolie in Salt
Beginning with some unnecessary torture porn in a North Korean prison and climaxing with some cheesy nuclear gamesmanship in a far less impressive war room than the one in Dr. Strangelove, Salt works best on one level: run Jolie run. See Jolie jump. Like Houdini slipping out of his chains, CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Jolie) eludes, evades, and outfoxes a CIA dragnet once a Russian defector Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) accuses her of being a Russian spy. As security cameras observe her movements, she blocks them with spray from a fire extinguisher, bullets, and even her underwear, leaving her fellow agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejoifor) exasperated and Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) saying "Get your panties off the camera." Is Salt a Russian agent? Will she kill the Russian president in the midst of the U.S. Vice President's big funeral in a cathedral in New York City?
I heard that Tom Cruise was originally meant to have Jolie's role in Salt, and one can find some odd correlations between this film and the forgettable Knight and Day (although Jolie requires no Cameron Diaz sidekick). Both movies feature black CIA vehicles pursuing a rogue agent on the highway and a big motorcycle chase scene. Also, Peter Sarsgaard has a role in Knight that is very similar to Schreiber's in Salt, but I much preferred the spaghetti freeway escapes that Salt pulls off. One can't help imagining that to hop from an overpass into speeding traffic is suicidal, but Salt jumps onto a semi with ease, and then skips to a tank truck, and then bops onto a smaller panel truck where she does at least dangle off of the side by one hand. She effectively turns the freeway into her own personal playground. Later, in handcuffs, she shrugs off a car full of police in part by tazing one fellow into accelerating the car off an overpass and plunging down, peacefully landing on a bunch of vehicles far below, whereupon she walks away. I wonder how much scenes like this suit Jolie's fantasies of evading paparazzi? Whenever Ted Winter yells out "We need eyes" as Salt blocks the cameras, I was reminded of not only the Bourne series but also of the world's desire to see, photograph, and in a sense entrap Jolie at all times. The film perhaps reflects how Jolie handles fame, and why she might want to escape it.
Otherwise, one can watch Salt's coolness quotient ratchet up every time she kills someone dispassionately. In constant movement, she never has to pause to think. Instead, she just acts, instinctively stealing a hat or an outfit, dying her hair, or blowing up a building effortlessly. Episodically, the film casts around for ever more significant things for her to do (visit the president!). As a result of all this ramping up, suspense drains away, and the movie's plot mechanics look tired compared to those of last week's Inception. Ever the star, Angelina Jolie can move on, but Evelyn is still trapped in the conventions of Salt.