As the film opens Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is enduring water torture from North Korean interrogators. This method has been practiced in a variety of ways, most notably during the Filipino Insurrection post-ceding the Spanish America War. In this instance Salt has a bong placed down her esophagus to fill her stomach with water before the interrogators forcefully stomp on her exposed stomach. This is extremely dangerous but is also survivable and effective. Before long, face bloodied and eyes blackened, Salt is released into U.S. custody because of her persistent fiancé, later turned husband, Mike Krause (August Diehl). Krause is an arachnologist, or spider collector for clarification. Being both a romantic and a lover of spiders, Krause gains access to key areas along the North Korean border. Her relationship with Krause in many ways defines her life and who she has become. We find out in short order, that despite her protestations to the contrary while in the Pyongyang prison, Salt is in fact a deep cover CIA agent.
For a long time she is blessed with a healthy marriage, a cute canine, and domestic bliss. One fateful day however, Salt’s life and reputation are suddenly tarnished when a Russian defector, Vassily Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), confesses to a team of CIA interrogators (led by Salt herself), that she is a Russian spy. Orlov freely accuses Salt of being a member of a sleeper cell whose mission would be to someday assassinate the President of the United States. On account of Orlov’s brain scans revealing that he is telling the truth, Agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) orders her detained for questioning. Salt’s commander, Agent Winter (Liev Schreiber), believes she is innocent.
After escaping from the CIA compound through the application of a homemade incendiary device, Salt returns home to find that a struggle has taken place resulting in her husband’s abduction. Time is short as a nationwide manhunt for her begins. When the agents arrive on scene, Salt scales the walls of her apartment to evade Peabody and Winter. This leads to a car chase that reminds me of The Matrix except it is a great deal more realistic. On the highway, bravely and agilely, she jumps from truck to truck before switching to a motorcycle to prevent the agents from capturing her. Later in the film Salt is involved in separate and morbidly hilarious car chase. While handcuffed in the back of a squad car, she smashes her fists into three officers and then tasers the driver. Via the taser’s voltage Salt is able to control the officer driving the car as though she is Geppetto and he is her puppet. Salt’s skills are insurmountable for almost all that oppose her will.
After leading viewers to believe she is innocent of Orlov’s charges, Salt leads a one woman assassination of the Russian Premier. It seems that Salt is not Salt at all, but a Russian sleeper agent trained to wreak havoc on the United States. In the words of Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) from Dumb and Dumber, “I didn’t even see it coming.” Orlov’s surrender initiated a two decade old scheme to bring the U.S. to its knees. The foundations had been laid when Salt had been a child in Russia. When the real Evelyn Salt’s parents died in an accident, she was unprotected and replaced by a Russian girl trained at Orlov’s compound. Their plan would culminate decades later when their operatives would be able to attain positions of importance closely connected with the President and national security. Their specific steps include assassinating the President and beginning a nuclear war on a Muslim nation. First destabilize the nation’s confidence, and then provoke a retaliatory strike against her. To write about Salt’s role any further would be the equivalent of spoiling the end of Titanic. Don’t ever let go Jack.
To be honest, Evelyn Salt had me at hello but lost me at goodbye. Much of Salt’s actions are riddled with ambiguity and her life is full of sadness to an unimaginable degree. The storyline may seem intriguing, given the number of Russian and Chinese sleeper spies detected during the Cold War, but overall it is next to impossible. The implausibility of the Russian assassins’ plan detracts from an otherwise exciting and daring movie. Salt goes so far toward shocking us, and then recoils at the very last instant, leaving viewers with a bitter hyper-taste in their palettes. Watch Salt with the utmost of certainty it will entertain you, but nothing more, and nothing less.
P.S. for those of you historically unaware, S.A.L.T is an acronym for the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty between the United States and Russia. Evelyn Salt’s namesake is inherently a play on words.
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