Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Salt Makes Everything Better

I make fun of preposterous plots a lot but the truth is that you can have the craziest damn plot imaginable and still make a good story out of it. Hell, one of the great classics of storytelling is a 2500 year old play about a man who, without his knowledge, kills his father and marries his mother before blinding himself. Then there's Hamlet, that play about the guy whose ghost dad tells him to kill his own uncle because said uncle killed him and then took Dead Dad's wife for his own. When he fails to do so, ends up getting poisoned along with his mom, who drinks poison meant for Hamlet, and his new Uncle-Dad who gets force fed poison by Hamlet*. That play is considered to be one of the best examples of writing in the history of the English language, a fact that always puzzles me since it's so loaded with cliches.

My point is that, if a story is well executed and told in an original way, it can be thoroughly preposterous and that brings us to Salt. You all know from the ads that Angelina Jolie plays a CIA operative named Evelyn Salt who gets accused by a Russian defector of being a deep-cover spy who is going to kill the current President of Russia so she escapes from a secure CIA location by doing things like jumping off a bridge onto a moving truck and driving a police vehicle off an overpass and barely sustaining a scratch even though she wasn't buckled or behind an airbag. Here's the thing about all that: what you've seen in the ads and trailers are the MOST believable parts of Salt. Despite that, it actually turns out to be a pretty good movie.

As the movie opens, we see poor Evelyn Salt being tortured by North Koreans who have arrested her for spying. She weeps and begs them to stop, insisting that she's not a spy. The North Koreans don't believe her because, well, she's a spy. Her husband, Mike, and closest associate at the agency, Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber), manage to get her out just in time for the real fun to begin. If you weren't sleeping during the first paragraph, you know that Salt is accused of being a Russian spy who is plotting to kill the visiting President of Russia. She handles this accusation by immediately doing things that make her look guilty such as running away and leading her fellow agents on a merry chase through the city as she tries to find her now missing husband. That probably all could have been explained if she hadn't gone ahead and killed the Russian President. Well, sort of. Kind of. Not really.

Salt actually has some genuine surprises, for me at least. It's nice that a big budget action film can still throw me for a loop like that as I normally call every twist and plot point within 20 minutes in movies like this and try to enjoy it for stunts, effects and jokes. This is surprising as Salt was written by Kurt Wimmer, author of such winners as Ultraviolet, the movie in which Milla Jojovich played a futuristic kind-of-vampire who lived and died and lived and died again before dying one last time before she lived thanks to one final, throw-away line of dialogue. Fortunately, Wimmer wasn't allowed to direct this time around and instead had the more capable hand of Dead Calm director Philip Noyce to give style, suspense and atmosphere to what by all rights should have been a really stupid and annoying movie.

Since it didn't anger me by insulting my intelligence, I guess you could say that, for once, Salt didn't raise my blood pressure. Get it? Raise my blood pressure? Cause, um, salt does that? Anyone? I am wasted on you people.

*Apologies for the spoilers to all these centuries-old stories.

No comments: