The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, January 6, 2011


One of the best trilogies around, the Jason Bourne movies did their fair share of reinventing the action genre.  They weren't so much stories as one linear chase scene with an occasional flashback.  This was action at its leanest, chases on foot and in cars, shootouts with police, gunmen and assassins, and epically physical one-on-one hand to hand combat.  It was the rare trilogy that actually got better with each new movie.  If there was ever a female version of Jason Bourne, I think I saw it in 2010's Salt.

Salt star Angelina Jolie is that rare movie star who can effortlessly switch back and forth between genres, jumping from popcorn flicks like this one or the Tomb Raider series to heavy dramatic roles like Changeling or even using her voice in animated fare like Kung Fu Panda. She is in the news as much for her relationship with Brad Pitt and her kids and her charity work that her acting can get lost in the shuffle.  As an actress, she's underrated, but personally she's always looked the most comfortable in action movies, and Salt is no exception.

CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is heading home to spend her anniversary with her husband (August Diehl) when she's called back to lead one more interrogation, a Russian, Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) who claims to have news that could cripple the U.S.  Upon questioning, Salt thinks nothing of it but as she leaves the room, Orlov claims that an undercover Russian agent is going to assassinate the visiting Russian president in New York City later that day.  The agent's name? Evelyn Salt. She claims innocence to fellow agent and friend, Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber), but is kept as a prisoner by FBI agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) until the truth can be figured out. Instead of sticking around to prove her innocence, Salt escapes, staying one step ahead of her pursuers.  Winters doesn't think she could be a Russian agent, but the evidence starts to build against her.  Maybe, just maybe, could Salt actually be a sleeper agent as part of a vast Russian conspiracy to cripple American interests?

I'm open to just about any type of movie, but I can always appreciate a simple, straightforward, big budget action movie that has no pretensions about being anything but an action movie.  No message, no ulterior motive, just over the top, ridiculous action that gets your adrenaline and blood flowing.  So like the Bourne movies, that's what Salt is.  At just 100 minutes, no time is wasted with back stories or subplots that go nowhere.  A few very brief flashbacks explain some of Salt's history, but they're over so quickly it doesn't slow any momentum down.  Yes, there is a twist late that really doesn't come as a surprise (it seemed really obvious to me), and there are plot holes that seem easy to fix, but the pacing is so lightning-fast you won't even notice until afterward.

Jolie proved her acting chops in the Lara Croft Tomb Raider series and just improved her credibility with other action flicks like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Wanted (which sucked by the way).  She is more than credible here from the start, the secret agent who you're not quite sure of her intentions.  It doesn't hurt in the least that Jolie is drop-dead gorgeous although she does look freakishly thin at times.  But in the action scenes, she again handles her own without any obvious uses of a stunt double.  If there's a fight, she's part of it, taking down anyone and everything trying to stop her from completing her mission.  The character certainly keeps you guessing as to her intentions, and the ending leaves things open for a sequel. It would be unnecessary, but the last few minutes are very cool with a memorable final shot, Jolie: Action Star.  Schreiber and Ejiofor get the thankless parts of the schlubs who have to chase her, but both actors are pros and make the most of it.

So in Female Bourne, Jolie leads the police, CIA, Russians, FBI, Secret Service on a man hunt throughout New York City and Washington D.C.  The action is hands-down the best part of the movie with a wide variety of chases and fights.  An extended chase early has Jolie's Salt jumping from an overpass onto a passing semi-truck and being forced to jump to another high speed truck when a roadblock is set up in front of her.  Yes, there had to be some CGI and green screen work here because I don't care how badass Jolie is (and she is), there's no way a studio green lights an action sequence like that.  The computer/stunt work is handled so seamlessly though it's hard to even tell the difference.  That's all of the action here.  Of course it is all ridiculous and not at all realistic, but Salt makes you believe that maybe, just maybe, this could happen.

The story does take a surprising turn about 50 minutes in, and not necessarily for the better.  Director Phillip Noyce rights the ship quickly enough that it isn't a complete loss, but there's no denying that the second half of the movie just isn't as high-quality as the first half.  That's a relative complaint though because the first half is a solid blueprint of what an action movie can be.  For all the faults, see this one for Angelina Jolie in kickass mode as Jason Bourne, I mean Evelyn Salt.

Salt <---trailer (2010): ***/****

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