Friday, August 6, 2010
While the idea of Russian moles being planted in the United States during the Cold War to wreak havoc on command is certainly appetizing and dramatically credible (as recent events have proven), Salt isn’t credible on any level. Working from a ridiculously incoherent script by Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen), Noyce (Clear and Present Danger) gamely attempts to navigate through this intelligence adventure as if he’s helming one of the Bourne films – except Salt ends up being about as believable as The Boys From Brazil (1978). And Jolie, who successfully magnetizes the camera, ends up in a role that ultimately makes little sense.
Salt has all the ingredients for an entertaining thriller except at the very core of the story where it utterly collapses. For instance, it’s clear from the beginning that we’re supposed to see Evelyn as a pawn in a larger conspiracy to possibly frame her. But by the time certain revelations get uncorked, she’s already killed and maimed so many people that it’s hard to feel any empathy for her at all. It’s also inadvertently comical that after the Russian President is ambushed the U.S. President would – just hours after the attack – allow two Russian NATO officers as welcomed guests into the White House. There are also periodic flashbacks to Evelyn Salt’s budding love affair with Mike (August Diehl), her husband, that never get fleshed out, or even fully comprehended. While watching Salt, I found myself reflecting back on the initially superb TV series Alias, with Jennifer Garner leading a double-life as an agent, and how her choices tragically affected her marriage in a far more convincing manner.
As for the performances, Jolie charges through the film like a supermodel on steroids, but the rest of the cast are laid bare by the idiocies in the plot. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a collection of bummer moments from such notable talents. Liev Schreiber wears the same catatonic expression he perfected in Jonathan Demme’s needless 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, while Chiwetel Ejifor provides a series of endless double-takes suggesting his growing disbelief at what he’s being asked to play. Poor Andre Braugher, that great actor from Glory (1989) and TV’s Homicide: Life on the Street, as the Secretary of Defense, gets reduced to utter anonymity, muttering one line before he’s cut down in a spray of bullets. There hasn’t been such a useless appearance in a major motion picture by a terrific actor of this magnitude since Ciarán Hinds was reduced to running errands for Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson’s fraudulent There Will Be Blood (2007). If anything is keeping audiences going to Salt, I guess it has to be the non-stop action which Noyce delivers as if his mind was on holiday.
Nolan’s version of inertia, though, always looks busy and complex, but that’s part of the more deceptive aspects of his work. Like his previous films (Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) Inception is essentially deep on the surface. (I deliberately left The Prestige off the list because the deceptive aspects of that story were actually engaging and clever; in fact, deception was the movie’s point given that the subject was magic.) But Inception has no dramatic core. If it did, Saito’s offer to Cobb wouldn’t be presented as something affirmative when in fact he’s breaking up another man’s company so that he can have the turf all to himself. We also would question why Adriadne neglects to inform the team of Cobb’s femme fatale dream projection when she could totally upend their plans. Nolan also has no sense of visual flow, or the lyricism to help us distinguish the various levels of dream states. (Every level looked the same to me: I felt like I was watching an endless parade of slick car ads.) And if the use of Edith Piaf's songs are included because Marion Cotillard played Piaf in La Vie en Rose (2007), the joke was lost on me.