An attempt at "Bourne" with a few twists, "Salt" is directed by Phillip Noyce ("Rabbit-Proof Fence") and written by Kurt Wimmer ("Equilibrium"). The picture stars Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt, a younger woman who has risen up the ranks of the CIA over the years. Everything seems calm and collected until a Russian walks in at the last minute as Salt and co-worker Ted Winter (Liev Schrieber) are about to leave. Initially bored and frustrated by having to go through the round of questioning, Salt suddenly is started by the secret that the Russian is ready to drop: there is a spy who is about to pull off a major task, and her name is Evelyn Salt.
Shocked and upset, Salt proceeds to escape the building, with Winter and an FBI agent named Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) on her trail. While Winter is seeing to protect her and bring her in in order to be questioned, Peabody is set on bringing her down at all costs. So sets in place a cat-and-mouse game that winds through the streets of Washington, DC and then off into New York towards an important event. From there, the movie launches into a whole other direction.
I'll give "Salt" credit: there is a significant twist or two and the movie's trailer didn't really give it away. However, I'll note that I actually enjoyed the movie more when it operated as a more conventional thriller. Noyce stages a few terrific action sequences and Jolie offers a very good performance, as well. The film doesn't have quite the same momentum nor is it as dynamic as the "Bourne" pictures, but it certainly looks and sounds terrific, with strong cinematography from Robert Elswit and fine editing from the pairing of Stuart Baird and John Gilroy.
However, it's the script that starts to go off the rails once the picture takes a turn. The movie isn't always working closely with logic in the first half, but the plot holes in the second half start to become larger and logic gets left further behind. While it's reasonable to expect a film like this to suggest a sequel, the last moments practically scream sequel - the whole finale is a little heavy-handed and seems forced to get to the desired surprise ending. While certainly modern in the details and other elements, the picture has sort of the feel of a late '90's action picture - and that's not necessarily good or bad, but just is. Tom Cruise was originally set to star in "Salt", and the picture was then rewritten for Jolie. If the framework of the story was the same, I can't imagine the picture working as well as it does with Jolie.
Overall, "Salt" functions best when it's a straightforward thriller - once the story flips into the unexpected, it twists itself into a knot. The picture does manage a few superb action sequences and Jolie offers a very good performance, but the material could have used a couple of rewrites.
The disc includes the unrated edition, the unrated director's cut and the theatrical ed.
VIDEO: "Salt" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and the result isn't reference quality, but remains above-average. Sharpness and detail are consistently very good throughout the glossy presentation of the thriller. No print flaws were spotted throughout the picture, but a few slight instances of edge enhancement were spotted. No pixelation or additional concerns were spotted, and the majority of the presentation appeared smooth and clean. Colors looked on the chilly side - accurate to the intent and feel of the picture. Flesh tones looked accurate and natural, while black level seemed strong.
SOUND: The film's DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack isn't a consistent assault, but it roars to life during the more intense sequences with the surrounds offering up gunfire, explosions and other sound effects. The rear speakers also deliver moderate amounts of environmental sounds and other ambience during a number of scenes. The front soundstage also remained involving, and the whole was enveloping and enjoyable. Audio quality was first-rate, with clear dialogue and deep, rich bass.
EXTRAS: Director Phillip Noyce offers a terrific audio commentary for the picture. The director's track is quite insightful, providing good details about the story, working with the actors, behind-the-scenes story and an overview of the production. We also get "Spy Cam", a basically enjoyable - if not hugely in-depth - picture-in-picture feature. Rounding out the main portion of the extras are six featurettes, starting with the most enjoyable of the bunch, "The Real Agents", which visits with former US and foreign spies. Also reasonably enjoyable is "Salt: Declassified", a nearly 30-minute "making of" - while not particularly in-depth, this piece was a step or two above the usual promotional piece. Less interesting are "The Ultimate Female Action Hero" and "The Modern Master of the Political Thriller", focusing on Jolie and Noyce. Somewhat more involving is "Spy Disguise". Finally, we get a series of promos for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "Salt" is one instance where less would have been more in terms of twists and turns, but Jolie offers an excellent performance and Noyce builds some tense action sequences. The Blu-Ray edition offers very good audio/video quality, as well a fine supplemental section.
The Film B