A couple of years ago, Tom Cruise was associated with the leading role of Salt, a dramatic thriller set in the shifting world of spies. Cruise pulled out and Angelina Jolie stepped in. As a result, everything shifted. There has been some discussion of how much this sex change has altered Salt, and if it’s the better or worse for it. But this is an argument that detracts from the effort of Angelina Jolie. During a summer of testosterone-rich blockbusters, a thriller with a woman lead feels like a breath of fresh air to at least this member of the female audience. Salt feels like a fine alternative to The Expendables this weekend. Admittedly, I’m never going to see the Expendables.
The story of Salt is on-the-surface straightforward – a defecting Russian spy names a mole within the American secret service; it’s his interrogator, Eveline Salt. Salt is immediately on the run, while flashbacks display her path and loyalties – they’re complicated. Her boss Liev Schreiber and hunting agent Chiwetel Ejiofor come together to pursue Salt across New York and Washington DC as the race is on to save the life of the Russian President and prevent a Third World War. The chill of the old Cold War permeates through the story.
The plot is hugely enjoyable – it isn’t complicated but Angelina Jolie’s efforts to stay one step ahead of the secret service is so immediate and frightening that you actually feel that these are real leaps from truck to truck and not an elaborate choreography. Jolie may be a woman and Salt a female agent but her numerous fights against the men standing in the way of her ruthless determination are believably fierce and brutal.
Angelina Jolie does not run prettily, she throws herself down the street. She looks like she’s running for her life and her desperate ingenuity is energising. The stunts don’t get in the way. How likeable Salt is, is another matter. As the story continues, her humanity becomes less important. But then again, that is also her defence mechanism. I do know that I would very much like to see Eveline Salt again.
The success of Salt is largely due to Angelina Jolie. The other characters are never anything but supporting and some twists and turns, although enjoyable, aren’t entirely unexpected. But Angelina Jolie is a tour de force and shows that she can make a film her own as well as any other male action hero, including Tom Cruise. And, as much as I like a good all-round male action hero, it’s very good to have a woman up there showing that it takes more than brute strength to save the world. Sequel, please!
So, talking of action heroes, here is my top 10 of (modern-ish) action actors as it stands at this minute of this day. Note how there are no women on it – that will change now because of Salt.
1. Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Blade Runner)
2. Bruce Willis (Fifth Element, Surrogates, Die Hard etc etc)
3. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator, Total Recall)
4. Will Smith (Independence Day, Hancock)
5. Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Knight and Day)
6. Matt Damon (Bournes)
7. Steve McQueen (Great Escape, Towering Inferno)
8. Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes)
9. Sylvester Stallone (Judge Dredd, Cliffhanger, Demolition Man)/Nic Cage (National Treasure)
10. This space is reserved for Jake Gyllenhaal.