USA 2010 Directed by: Phillip Noyce Written by: Kurt Wimmer, Brian Helgeland Produced by: Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, Sunil Perkash Cinematography: Robert Elswit Editing: Stuart Baird, John Gilroy Music: James Newton Howard Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl, Daniel Pearce, Hunt Block, Andre Braugher, Olek Krupa, Cassidy Hinkle, Corey Stoll
Who is Salt? is not only the tagline of an extensive marketing campaign, but also the film’s central question. Salt, a CIA agent who was born in Russia and is said to be a traitor infiltrating the United States, is the movie’s one and only mystery-to-be-solved. That of course is also the film’s central dilemma: the plot centers around this one question like an Agatha Christie novel, what’s missing is the clever writing and the surprise ending (or at least the joy finding out that everything’s exactly as we’ve anticipated).
Most of the time SALT is a slightly above average action flick, the kind we’ve seen many times before. Some of the scenes will remind you of the BOURNE movies, some of HITMAN (Salt’s character is just like that of Agent 47) or ALIAS (complete with Garneresque hair color changes and double-double-agent twists). She shoots, she kills, she jumps and kicks, she breaks out and breaks in. The longer the movie runs the more we hope that the programmatic Who Is Salt? will save SALT from tanking.
But that ain’t happening. The question turns out to be a trick question, and the movie turns out a very conservative one: despite looking like an international espionage thriller all it does is reinforce old cold war clichés and America’s position as the gatekeeper to salvation (I reckon Wimmer’s and Helgeland’s favorite video game back then on their C64 was Raid Over Moscow). The US are so incredibly good, generous, righteous and exemplary that even a spy with the most anti-American sentiment cannot help but fall in love with the enemy and abandon mother Russia. SALT’s plot is nothing like the THE INTERNATIONAL, but instead it’s a very one-sided affair. The script isn’t bad, but given its political orientation and non-negotiable beliefs SALT is not a discourse, but a doctrine. Consequently, being indoctrinated by SALT is as enjoyable as watching the Deutsche Wochenschau. Remember the creepy puppet version of Ronald Reagan nuking Russia in Genesis’s music video Land of Confusion? That’s SALT, minus the irony.
But now back to marketing: one of the golden rules of advertising is never to pose a question in your headline, because you leave the door wide open for silly answers. Seems that the marketers of SALT have forgotten that, and hence the audience’s answer to “Who Is Salt” could be “Who cares?”, or “Come on now, tell me already, I’ve got no time to google it”, or simply “There’s something wrong with your grammar, guys”.
Whatever the reaction to the tagline might be, what’s worse is that Salt is exactly who we think she is. Which means, SALT is firing blank rounds instead of live ammunition.
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