Great action sequences. Questionable plot. Limited character development.
I enjoy spy films, and remember having liked the 1994 "Clear and Present Danger" (starring Harrison Ford), also directed by Phillip Noyce, so I decided to see "Salt" and bought the Blu-ray. The disk has all three versions and lots of interesting extra features, including a commentary by Phillip Noyce, and interviews with real-life spies, such as the famous former Counterintelligence KGB General Oleg Kalugin, now an American citizen.
"Salt" is an enjoyable film, better, I say, than all Bourne films, or "Mission Impossible" (with the possible exception of the first one, directed by Brian de Palma, where Angelina Jolie's father plays), and also better than many James Bond films, with, perhaps, the exception of the 1963 "From Russia with Love", from which "Salts" borrows something - remember Colonel Rosa Klebb played by Lotte Lenya ?
Moles in the CIA (and FBI), "sleepers", "illegals in dormant state waiting to be activated for sinister purposes against the West, Soviet/Russian (KGB, SVR, FSB) defectors after defectors ... all are true and not new - see "Telefon" (1977, with Charles Bronson), "The Fourth Protocol" (1987, with Pierce Brosnan, "The Good Shepherd" (2006, also with Angelina Jolie), "The Company" (2007, TV with Michael Keaton).
Angelina Jolie, Liev Schrieber, and Daniel Olbrychski do well as Evelyn Salt, and, like many others, I liked watching them, but I have two serious problems with the plot. Not so much the impossible acrobatics and escapes and infiltrations ... but the premise of the film itself:
- How is it possible to depict (and make us believe that) The Secret Service is so ineffective ... Bystanders ... ?
1. A Russian spy comes to the CIA, and reveals top secrets about former Soviet, now Russian operations against the United States. He even uncovers the identity of a mole inside CIA ranks. OK - Good deeds ! But, if he is a genuine defector, why, after being interviewed, does he kills his CIA guards, and then escapes ... Doing this only discredits his testimony. That is not how a genuine defector behaves.
2. If, on the other hand he is not a genuine defector, but an active enemy agent, someone who came to activate "sleepers", why does he have to come in and reveal everything to the CIA, including uncovering the identity of a top mole in the CIA, thus, gravely endangering the mission his agents (the sleepers) are to carry out ? If he only needed to provide instructions to his undercover agents, he could have used other methods of communication. This is not how an offensive (let us call him "a non-genuine defector") behaves.
3. If, further, this was just a temporary defection, with the sole purpose of uncovering to the CIA the identity of a mole (the Theatrical and Director's Cut versions of th film, but not the Extended version suggests this), than it was not at all necessary to reveal the rest of the plan to the CIA (that this mole, a Russian agent will soon attempt to kill ...), and, definitely, it was absolutely wrong for the defector to kill his guards and escape. So, bad logic. Am I wrong ?
We, the viewers like thrillers, action, adventure, spy stuff (deception after deception, double-cross, multiple against and allegiances), but we also like solid, smart and plausible intelligence (brain, analytical) work behind the action - e.g. "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979, TV) and "Smiley's People" (1982, TV) both with Alec Guiness Not too much "intelligence" work in "Salt", just a lot of (great !) action sequences ... there is too much Phillip Noyce expects us to accept, take for granted.
On the positive side: "Salt" may also be viewed the soul-searching journey of a double-agent who struggles with the question: "On which side am I ?" or "On which side should I be ?" In the end the agent decides where the allegiance should be placed, and chooses the side who advocates morality and humanity.
If you do not ask (too many) questions, "Salt" is definitely enjoyable.