The question in Salt is not what can she do, but who is she? After being exchanged by the North Koreans (who clearly got nothing out of her despite water boarding serious enough to make Dick Cheney blush), she shows up two years later, happily married to a German arachnologist, and employed by – sure enough – the CIA. She’s surrounded by a loving husband, a nice dog and lots of furry spiders.
But then a purported Russian defector uncloaks her as a mole, about to assassinate the Russian President on a visit to the funeral of the U.S. Vice-President. There’s also a plot to kill the U.S. President. The defector claims that Salt’s job is to bring on Armageddon as the Russians are expected to retaliate by exploding enough nuclear stuff, in places such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, to turn the world against the U.S. Evidently, she was trained from childhood (her real name is supposedly Chernkov) in a Russian “Charm School” (remember Nelson DeMille’s superb novel?) and planted, along with hundreds of others in the U.S. for just such an important assignment. The CIA detains and isolates her. Sorry guys, you’re not playing with kids. Salt escapes from the CIA, and what follows is a fascinating set of questions, ploys and counter ploys designed to keep us guessing. Is she or isn’t she? How about the defector? Is he legit? And, can we trust all those CIA types?
Not only is it a set of interlocking puzzles, but it’s also punctuated and burnished by well staged and virtually continual visual explosions, interspersed by some of the finest karate chops this side of Bruce Lee. Almost all of them are delivered by the irrepressible Salt. It’s performed well enough that you tend to ignore the wild improbability and actually enjoy the mayhem while trying to solve the puzzles.
The rumor is that the screenplay was originally drafted by Kurt Wimmer with Tom Cruise in mind. If so, he would have been hard-pressed to match Angelina’s sheer energy. Liev Schreiber is fine as her CIA pal, and Chiwetel Ejiofor does a nice turn as another agent. Make no mistake, however; this is Angelina’s film and she carries off what is otherwise utterly unbelievable with filmland ingenuity and her own inescapable charm.