Year Released: 2010
Directed by: Phillip Noyce
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
(PG-13, 100 min.)
"In love and in war, women are more barbaric than men." Friedrich Nietzsche
Did Columbia Pictures actually hire a cadre of extras to pose as Russian sleeper agents to hype the release of Angelina Jolie’s latest thriller? Those alleged spies were certainly whisked off to Moscow before we could blink an eye, weren’t they? It’s enough to make you wonder is they merely disappeared into central casting to pick up their checks and former identities.
At any rate, the break up of the massive Russian spy ring – complete with its own red-haired seductress – has certainly quelled criticism of what had seemed an outdated cold war plot central to this thriller. And even as we speak – almost – another Slavic beauty, this one a 24 year Russian beautician right here in Texas is facing a federal felony charge for trying to smuggle night vision goggles to Moscow.
Of course, Jolie (CIA officer Evelyn Salt) is a blond, at least initially, until she dyes her hair in a ladies’ room to evade capture by her former colleagues, who are a bit troubled that a Russian defector has identified her as a sleeper agent. The fact that she merely changes her hair color and does nothing to hide those awesomely high cheekbones, or anything else about her person, is one of many “gloriously absurd” plot elements that apparently titillates once reliable Roger Ebert, a critic who admits that Salt does all the things he can’t stand in bad movies.
The frosting on the cake is when she rips off a ushanka, a Russian fur hat that looks like it was left over from the filmingDr.Zhivago, from a rack that miraculously appears on the street. Yea, that’s going to hide those suspected Ruskie roots, all right.
Perhaps Jolie comes closest to the truth -- about herself and Salt --when she admits she was attracted to the character of Evelyn Salt because “something’s a bit off about her…and maybe something’s a bit off about me.”
Okay, I am slightly impressed by the stunts, which apparently Jolie, looking more thin and frail than in her Lara Croft days, did all by herself. The action sequences draw praise for their “lean muscularity,” the limits on the CGI technology, that eye candy which seems to be a substitute for plot or character development in such absurdly praised pieces as the recent highly overrated Inception, a film I was going to review but have decided my husband’s succinct appraisal: "Who dreamed up this crap?" says it all.
But labeling the stunt work parkour, “the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one's path by adapting one's movements to the environment," as Ebert via Wikipedia chortles, is a bit of a stretch. At least for someone who has seen the real thing in District B13 or even Casino Royale, which opens with a breathtaking a chase scene in Uganda with Bond chasing a bad guy bomb maker played by Sabastien Foucan, who actually practices this form of urban gymnastics. In the Bond film, the camera careens in wide pans to capture a wild chase atop towering steel beams and cranes as well as heart pounding leaps back to earth. Jolie puts her all into it when she descends eight stories in a elevator shaft but it looks like work for her, not the effortless almost ballet sequences in these other two films.
How does this thriller compare to others in the spy genre? Some uncharitably call it a Jason Bourne knock-off, while others think she has it all over legendary James Bond. Critic Kirk Honeycutt, admitting it a “clever but shallow screenplay,” nevertheless admires its pace:
“It doesn’t stop for martinis, either shaken or stirred.” And Ebert brings up that old trope about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. “Evelyn does everything James Bond did, except backwards and barefoot in the snow.” And then he starts obsessing about Jolie’s ankles. The man is hopeless.
For a film that takes more rabbits out of a hat than Mandrake the Magician, Salt certainly takes itself seriously. After all, nuclear annihilation, the typical threat of 007 vintage, is here again, with nothing but lean and lithe little Lara – Oh, I’m mixing up my Jolie superwomen – I mean elfin Evelyn standing between it and the rest of us. Not a bit of humor or friendly banter either-- you know the kind that slicked the rails in those Hitchcock spy classics like The 39 Steps or The Lady Vanishes.
But after all, this is the summer popcorn time. It’s not really serious, just dress up serious, and if we cracked any jokes, that might destroy the illusion. If you want the gritty reality of the spy business, go rent The Ipcress File, John Le Carre’s unflinching The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, that stark masterpiece Army of Shadows, or the nearly perfect The Lives of Others.
That doesn’t mean you should pass up this fast-paced thriller. After all, there are those cheekbones. Just ask Roger.
As already noted, this thriller does not slow down: “It doesn’t stop for martinis, either shaken or stirred.”
But maybe we could coax our dark-haired beauty, the lovely Agent Salt, to pause for a drink from Mother Russia. Because whether or not we believe Angelina Jolie’s Salt is a sleeper agent, she does hail from Russia, where her parents taught English at the US Embassy before being killed in a car accident.
So break out the vodka anyway. You don’t have to mix a Bond martini; do a delightful White Russian instead. Here are 3 recipes to choose from. But be careful, just like our beautiful agent, they can be lethal.
Будем здоровы! : (Boo-dem Zdo-ro-vee-eh)
White Russian Cocktail
White Russian #1 recipe
- 2 oz vodka
- 1 oz coffee liqueur
- light cream
Pour vodka and coffee liqueur over ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass. Fill with light cream and serve.
Serve in: Old-Fashioned Glass
White Russian #2 recipe
- 1 jigger vodka
- 1 oz white creme de cacao
- 1 oz cream
Serve over ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass.
22% (44 proof)
White Russian #3 recipe
- 2 oz Stoli® Vanil vodka
- 1 oz Kahlua® coffee liqueur
- 1/2 - 1 oz light cream
Pour vanilla vodka and kahlua over ice. Top off with light cream and enjoy.
25% (50 proof
Serve in: Old-Fashioned Glass
Recipe Source: Drinks Mixer.com