Old recipe, well-seasoned ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Old recipe, well-seasoned

My rating:

So, weird title, huh? Summer action blockbuster named after a condiment. The pundits over on Lowyat.net have been joking about it being called Garam. I'm kinda surprised I haven't seen more piss-taking about that title; maybe it's 'cos its marketing campaign is a lot smarter than it seems. You look at that poster (both versions of it), you look at that trailer, you get the impression of a somewhat promising-looking Angelina Jolie action flick that takes itself perfectly seriously - and soon, you sort of feel that this movie couldn't possibly be called anything else. Well, kudos to the marketers, but still. You'd think someone who worked on this movie might've given that title a bit more thought.

You'd also think they'd work harder on making a fresher movie.

Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a dedicated CIA agent, married to her loving husband Michael (August Diehl) and close friends with her superior Ted Winter (Liev Schrieber). When a supposed Russian defector named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) fingers her as a sleeper agent on a mission to assassinate the visiting Russian President, she is forced to go on the run, pursued by relentless counter-intelligence agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and her own incredulous superior - but it soon becomes less and less clear what Salt's true motives are.

That's one of the shortest synopses I've had to write in a while, and that's because there're a number of plot twists in this movie that I can't write this review without talking about - so I'm gonna do the thing where I darken the spoiler text and you have to highlight it to read it. On the whole, this is a very well-made action flick, and you can attribute that to Phillip Noyce's direction. He made his name directing the Tom Clancy thrillers Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, but won his greatest acclaim with Rabbit-Proof Fence (which I shamefully haven't seen). With this film, he may well join Martin Campbell in the ranks of the most reliable directors of thrillers and action films working today.

And the screenplay is by Kurt Wimmer, who after writing and directing Equilibrium - still one of the most wildly entertaining action movies ever - is steadily making a name for himself as a writer of action thrillers (though not always good ones). There's some solid writing here, both in terms of plotting and dialogue, the latter of which is ably delivered by its solid cast. Jolie is one of very few marketable female action heroes (the other is Milla Jovovich, who is somewhat more, um, downmarket), and this is a role that plays to more than just her ability to kick ass; she makes great use of that inscrutable stare she does so well. And you've also got Liev Schrieber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, both of whom lend their gravitas to proceedings which would be decidedly cheesier without it.

Now for the not-so-good parts. Right up to the first big chase scene, I was totally digging this movie. Yes, Salt performs some impossibly athletic leaps across the roofs of moving trucks, but Noyce's teeth-jarring camerawork and Jolie's desperate, hunted performance had me readily suspending my disbelief. But from that point on, any shred of vulnerability on our heroine's part disappears, and she turns into this unstoppable superwoman. At one point, she even lets herself get caught and arrested, just to mount another big action-packed escape - like there just ain't nothing she can't waltz right out of. Even the Bourne movies - and the comparison is pretty obvious - knew to let its hero take plenty of punishment. And Matt Damon never played Bourne like he just knows how badass he is, which Jolie tends to do.

One of the interesting things it tries to do is keep the audience guessing as to which side Salt is really on. Thing is, it tips its hand too easily when (SPOILER ALERT) she very conscientiously uses non-lethal force on the cops, CIA and Secret Service agents she takes out. Which makes her badassery even more unbelievable. And it saves one final plot twist for near the end, which is again easy to guess when (SPOILER ALERT) you hear someone talk about how many secret Russian sleeper agents there are one too many times. That's ultimately what keeps this movie from greatness: the fact that none of this is new. Even the basic premise of a good guy, falsely accused of being a bad guy, pursued by his friends and colleagues - but is he really a good guy? - has been done over and over.

But at least it's executed pretty well here. And I don't think it's a spoiler to say the movie ends on a hook for a sequel. Which I wouldn't mind watching; the world is big enough for a female version of the Bourne series, albeit preferably one in which its protagonist isn't quite so invulnerable. But if it can keep Noyce for its sequel(s), and if Wimmer can keep up this level of quality, we might just have another consistently good action movie franchise. I can understand why Roger Ebert gave Salt a four-star rating, even if I don't really think it's that good; it's because smart, adult action movies like this, that take themselves seriously and deserve to be taken seriously, are so rare.

NEXT REVIEW: The Last Airbender
Expectations: Eight percent, yo!


ken said...

i enjoyed it.. full of surprises.. =)

McGarmott said...

Well, it was originally titled Edwin A. Salt. Also, as much as I was caught off-guard by the final twist of the movie, I think perhaps the most effective one was when they killed off the youknowwho when she entered the barge. It affected my mood for the rest of the movie anyways. Like the second Bourne movie, good kill.

k0k s3n w4i said...


you were caught off-guard by the final twist? the one where Ejiofor's character let her go? or was it liev schreiber turning out to be a baddie after all? i remember leaning to my friend in the first frame schreiber appeared in and telling him "he's a bad guy. definitely." that guy oozes villainy from every pore.

i think tom cruise was suppose to star in this, and having his wife shot in the barge scene would probably be more effective to me (me being male and being unintentionally sexist :P). the only time i was ever impressed was how salt kill schreiber's character. it was so gloriously violent and hatefully passionate. still, i kept wondering why they cuffed her with what was essentially a whole feet of chain. spoiled it for me a little.

i enjoyed this film though. but it's definitely a forgettable romp in my book.

i saw last airbender. it was not as bad as i thought but the thing which killed it was the horrible acting and lines. and the ending of it is an improvement over the cartoon's first season finale, in my opinion (even if it will render some later events nonsensical). if you haven't seen it, do not see it in 3D. i think i am most outraged by how great a movie it might have been if m night didn't fuck it up.

i'm going to do a post mortem review of it soon, me being a fan of the nickelodeon series.

McGarmott said...

Spoiler response ahead ...

When Schreiber turns out to be a baddie. Totally didn't see that one coming. Yes lah, I do know he turns out to be the bad guy in many movies, but here they hid it well by having him show a lot of genuine concern for Salt and trying to defend her like the good boss he is (without overplaying it), and then reverse it by screaming angrily after her for her betrayal when she got arrested, which is a nice trick.

TMBF said...

@McGarmott: You didn't see that one coming? I thought it was pretty predictable, not even because of Schreiber but because it was so obviously telegraphed that there would be one final sleeper agent. But yes, decent attempts at misdirection.

McGarmott said...

Hoi, now you guys are making me feel stoopid. Yes, now that you mentioned, I'm reminded of the fact that the Czech sleeper agent had informed of a final sleeper agent. But then ... Angelina Jolie playing a MAN! How cool is that? And how f-ing fake are those jumps down the elevator shaft? And shit, will they manage to kill or injure her even though she's actually trying to save the president ...

You get the picture.