Suspension of disbelief is crucial in movies. You can’t walk into an action movie thinking one-against-twenty equals impossible odds. One-against-twenty is even. Take Angelina Jolie in her new movie, Salt. Judging by her appearance, she couldn’t beat a drum. And yet, here she is: pounding Secret Service agents into jelly. This, despite the fact she could wear a wedding ring round her wrist. Despite the fact her coat has more muscles than she does. In Salt, she’s made of bricks. It’s up to the audience to decide if this is okay. “Plausible” doesn’t come into it. After all, you’re not invited to believe in her actions; you’re invited to enjoy watching them.
Evil North Koreans start the movie by torturing Angelina in her underwear. They think she’s a spy. She denies it, convincingly. But she’s lying. This sets the audience wondering what else she might be lying about. It also sets out the central premise of the movie. We can’t trust Angelina, and neither can her colleagues. When a Russian spy walks into Angie’s office (two years later), claiming he wants to defect, he says Angie is a Russian sleeper agent. She says he’s lying…and then she blasts the office with a table-leg bazooka. Faster than the Feds can say Billy Bob Thornton, Angie goes on the lamb. There isn’t a cop, a car, or a building (including the White House) that she can’t escape from. She’s Jason Bourne, with ovaries.
No-one can ever prove (real-life Russian sleeper agent) Anna Chapman was in the pay of Columbia Pictures marketing department, but it seems pretty obvious. Young, hot, abysmal at spying, she couldn’t actually have been working for the FSB, so the logical conclusion is that the boys at Columbia paid her…to smoulder on the front pages of newspapers across the world, and raise publicity for Salt. Chapman, 28, arrested by the FBI at Starbucks, looks like Amy Adams, with a hint of tsarina. She’s Russian in the authentic Russian way, full of life and law-breaking impulses. So much so, you wish someone had paid her to star in Salt, rather than help to advertise the movie (Okay, I admit: I don’t actually believe Columbia paid Anna Chapman to do marketing). While Angelina stresses the iron-knuckles aspect of her character, you don’t get any of the sex-pot you get in Chapman.
Angelina has, sadly, been eaten by Hollywood. The curvy lunatic who howled her way to fame in Girl, Interrupted has been scooped out and sculpted to fit the usual, Jennifer-Connelly-in-A Beautiful Mind template: no fat, no boobs, no hips. She has about as much meat on her as a pre-election policy manifesto, and all the “I sleep with knives”-talk has been scalpelled by spin doctors too. To think, this was a woman who radiated sex ten years ago – not because she was ten years younger, but because the bloodless vampires we call “agents” hadn’t sucked all the juice from her brain. In Salt, you’d be hard pushed to tell her apart from her sleek, shiny handgun.
Salt is the sort of movie where, in fairness, acting is superfluous. Angelina could have wept and soliloquised non-stop and it wouldn’t have made it through editing. The point of the movie, and, make no mistake, its chief success, is to propel Angelina from one nerve-jangling moment to the next, as fast as possible. By the time she disguises herself as a man (which makes her resemble a young John Travolta), you should be so far from considering her acting ability, and so worn out from thinking: ?!!!?!!, good acting will long have ceased to matter. Salt wants you to feel excited by the chase, and the cockamamie twists. It’s not the goddamn Valerie Plame story. Unless, that is, Valerie Plame can leap-frog between traffic.
The difference between Evelyn Salt and real-life spies is two-fold: 1) Real spies can eat. 2) Real spies don’t fall on their backs…from a twenty feet drop…onto a steel truck…and walk away from it. But then, real spies, like Valerie Plame and Anna Chapman, seem to get fired once they’ve appeared on television. Evelyn Salt hasn’t even launched her transvestite attack on the White House when she appears on BBC News, so movie-reality is obviously more exciting to watch. If you suspend disbelief, while watching Salt, you get furious entertainment. The movie doesn’t pretend to know about spies. It knows Angelina is the star; her billing knocks guys out.