Salt (4/5)

Don’t you miss the Cold War? The threat of nuclear annihilation might not have been such fun, but at least you knew where you stood, especially when you walked into a movie theatre. It was all so simple. The Americans were the good guys. They were for capitalism, freedom and God. The Russians were the bad guys. They were for communism and world domination. But they weren’t all bad. Their women agents were mysterious and beautiful, their generals wore snazzy unforms, and when they weren’t playing chess they were reading classic literature and stomping vodka glases underfoot. You could get to liking bad guys like that.

And around those two poles, the world spun quite merrily, until the Wall fell down.

Salt will bring you back to those halycon days of ideological conflict. Here, the Cold War is unfinished business, Brezhnev’s babies are just hitting their prime, and, if you have a talent for languages and hand-to-hand combat, the world’s your oyster.

Evelyn Salt, played by Angelina Jolie, speaks fluent Russian. (There’s nothing sexier than a lady speaking Russian, and of course, half the world’s population would pay just to watch Angelina putting up wallpaper. But there’s more to this movie’s appeal than just eye candy.) She’s also as inventive as Rolf Harris, as athletic as Daley Thompson, and can take a beating like Frank Bruno—as shown in the film’s opening sequence, when the North Koreans are treating her to some rough hospitality.

But who is Evelyn Salt? That’s the question on the movie posters, and it’s the mystery running through the first half of the movie. Is she a CIA agent married to a German arachnologist, as she seems to be? Is she a CIA agent who is actually a Russian spy, as a Russian defector claims? Is she a CIA agent pretending to be a Russian spy? Is she a Russian spy pretending to be a Russian spy?

Well, even the most slow-witted movie-goer (that’s me) probably won’t find it difficult to anticipate the twists and turns of this story. But that’s OK. The whole thing is so fast-paced, stylish and fun that you won’t care. Anyone who enjoyed the Bourne films starring Matt Damon will have a ball with this picture. It’s low-tech (no exploding fountain pens here), it’s gritty, there are no speeches, and it takes us through a roller-coaster of picturesque locations, including a cathedral and the White House. What more can you ask for?

I realize I haven’t said much about the plot. Well, eminently guessable as the twists may be, they are central to the story and, since they come along pretty soon into the film’s running time, it doesn’t leave me with much to reveal. A Russian defector tells the CIA about a whole crop of Soviet children who were raised with the sole purpose of becoming sleeper agents in America. Now these red babies are grown up, they will soon conspire to bring about a “Day X” for America—and you can just guess it’s nothing as pleasant as a surprise birthday party for the President. In other words, the stakes are as high as could be.

When I was younger, I wanted to see movies that Made a Statement about the Human Condition. Now I’ve grown up, I realize the human condition is no great mystery after all. Today I would rather see pretty people jumping out of windows, finding creative uses for poisonous spiders, and hanging onto helicopters. It’s way more fun.

But maybe the most fun thing about this film is that it leaves itself open for a sequel. More Salt please!.

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