It seems like we're all so busy these days. What with work and school and taking the kids to kazoo practice, every day is endless hustle and bustle, rush-rush-rush.
In that respect, Evelyn Salt is just like the rest of us, really. Oh, sure, her lips are a bit fuller than most, and her errands typically involve more plastic explosives. But is she really that much different than, say, your typical soccer mom?
When we first meet Salt, she's doing things that any of us might do: cowering in a North Korean prison, waiting for her torturers to—
Oh, no, wait. Bad example. When we second meet Salt, she's preparing to celebrate her anniversary dinner with her thoughtful-yet-bland husband. Not that she has time: After all, she's already juggling two jobs—a fake one (vice president for Rink Petroleum, where her rumored duties include keeping track of underwater oil plugs in case something goes amiss) and a real one (CIA operative, whose duties include intelligence gathering, covert operations and looking pouty). But the anniversary dinner is important to her, so Salt sets aside national security for a time to soak up a quick online tutorial on how to fold napkins.
But just as she's about to leave work and put her newly acquired napkin skills to use, a bedraggled fellow with a Russian accent stumbles in asking for immunity. Why would the CI—er, I mean, Rink Petroleum, grant the man immunity? What would he give them in return?
Orlov, the bedraggled fellow, launches into a whale of a story—one in which the old U.S.S.R. planted spies in the U.S. when the spies were still children. They'd grow up in American culture, absorbing the country's language and attitudes and love for baseball, while somehow remaining firmly committed to the Soviet Motherland. And in America they'd wait, for years or decades—biding their time and watching Star Trek reruns until someone told them what nefarious trap they were supposed to spring on the hated Western capitalists who surrounded them.
Never mind that Russia's under new management now. Those agents are still in place, and some old Soviet-era warhorses plan to activate them soon. Oh, did I mention yet that one of those deeply implanted agents is named Evelyn Salt? And that she's supposed to kill the Russian president sometime tomorrow?
What? Salt's employers gasp. Evelyn's moonlighting as a Communist-era spy? When does she find the time to do that and fold napkins, too?
Salt insists she's not a double agent: She's just a cookie-cutter CIA operative who wants to have dinner with her hubby. But it seems her current employers want her to answer a few questions first. Which is just as well, since Salt's spouse isn't around to have dinner with, anyway—Soviet operatives have apparently kidnapped him to ensure she does exactly what they want her to.
You know. The same ol', same ol'. Kazoo lesson tomorrow at 4.
Salt, as you might expect, is a purposefully murky character, and for a time the audience wonders whether she has more secret identities than the Octomom has kids.
But one thing we're pretty positive of right off the bat: Salt loves her husband. She hooked up with him initially because he was "perfect cover." But she grew to love him—so much so that she even confessed to him that she was a CIA agent (a big professional no-no).
"There's no future for us," Salt tells him. "You're not safe with me."
"I don't want to be safe," he responds. All he wants to do, he adds, is spend the rest of his life with her.
He's earned her love, and she responds by going to extreme lengths to try to rescue him from his nefarious captors.
The Russian president is supposed to be assassinated during a funeral held in a New York church: We watch as priests and participants do funereal-related things—shortly before select portions of the sacred space are blown to bits. Also, Soviet puppet masters plan to manipulate the U.S. into nuking Tehran, Iran, and Mecca, Saudi Arabia—to kill 9 million people, anger a billion Muslims and jumpstart a cataclysmic "holy" war. After the nuclear bombs are armed and ready for activation, a military bigwig tells the U.S. president, "God be with you." Somebody talks about being "damned."
Salt is seen in skimpy, bloodstained underwear before and while the North Koreans waterboard her. She hangs a pair of skimpy panties over a security camera. (Audiences first see her strip off the panties in a quick—not too detailed—scene.) Salt and her husband kiss a couple of times.
Salt is a well-seasoned one-woman assault force who rips through government lackeys and foreign terrorists with equal alacrity. But she doesn't kill everyone she touches. When she's battling U.S. homegrown forces, she tends to show a touch of mercy. She may punch, kick and pistol-whip them; she may break their bones, fire bullets into their legs, taser their foreheads and render them unconscious. She may even throw explosives in their general direction. But one gets the sense that most of her U.S. victims get back up … eventually, maybe. It appears as though she shoots and kills one as she's gunning for another. But her aim seems to be to immobilize these folks, not annihilate them.
[Spoiler Warning:]The same cannot be said for the Soviet terrorists she encounters. After Orlov shoots Salt's husband in the chest, killing him right in front of her, Salt's mind turns toward revenge. First, she kills Orlov with a broken vodka bottle. (We hear the bottle repeatedly slam into his face and body. We see blood on its jagged remains.) Then she kills Orlov's henchmen with grenades and gunfire. She shoots one point-blank in the head. Later, in perhaps the film's most graphic sequence, she strangles another Soviet to death with a pair of handcuffs. Some might argue that Salt kills these folks because she has to, but I had no doubt that she also wants to.
As mentioned, the first time we see her, Salt's a bloody, bruised mess inside a North Korean prison. She screams for mercy as she's waterboarded (onscreen). When she's released, her face is still covered with wounds, her right eye a swollen nut of tissue. Two years later, she gets shot in the side, flings herself from a variety of moving cars and, in the climactic battle, has her nose broken and face severely bloodied. She gets hit so often I stopped keeping track of the individual blows.
Elsewhere, a Soviet agent kills two security guards with the help of a blade hidden in his shoe. A man commits suicide by blowing himself up—killing several bystanders in the process. An agent shoots and kills several Americans and knocks the U.S. president unconscious. A man is poisoned with spider venom, making it look as if he's dead. A couple of lengthy car chases cause multiple injuries. Someone gets stabbed in the shoulder.
Crude or Profane Language
About eight uses of the s-word and one indistinct f-word. Characters misuse God's name about a dozen times—almost all of them paired with "d‑‑n." Jesus' name is abused three or four times. "H‑‑‑" pops up repeatedly.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Orlov and Salt share shots of vodka before Salt kills Orlov with the bottle.
Other Negative Elements
These spies lie so much you start wondering whether they even know what's the truth and what they're making up. Salt breaks out of the CIA and goes on the lam, stealing like a kleptomaniac on vacation. She swipes hats, clothes, credit cards and motorcycles, to name just a few things.
Who are we, really? Are we products of our upbringing? Our environments? Our relationships?
We are, of course, products of all three. But in the persona of Evelyn Salt, these three influencers war against one another in a winner-take-all showdown. In the end, we're told it's our relationships—those we love, those who love us back—that hold the biggest sway over us. It's a lesson we've been taught in everything from the Bible to The Princess Bride—that love really does conquer all—but it's always nice to hear it again.
That doesn't mean you should hear it again. At least not from Salt, where love leads to heartache, which in turn leads to bloody, bloody vengeance. This old-fashioned spy thriller—cleverly crafted though it may be—embraces a boatload of newfangled violent effects and onscreen freneticism, crafted to hold the attention of today's easily distracted moviegoers.
All of which makes Salt quite similar to its dinner-table namesake: It's tasty. It's savory. But too much of it can take down your ticker. And this flick dumps a bowlful on your broccoli, not a sprinkle.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt; Liev Schreiber as Ted Winter; Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peabody; Daniel Olbrychski as Orlov
July 23, 2010
December 21, 2010