It's Infernal Affairs at a national level, where instead of cops and robbers playing spy versus spy through the planting of moles in each other's operations, this one ups the ante with countries planting sleeper cells of spies in others, waiting for opportunities to strike when given the cue. It's something like The Manchurian Candidate (which starred Liev Schreiber too) as well, although here the operatives are fully aware of what they're in for. And it's not as far-fetched a plot as one would think, because as what had surfaced quite recently, there were after all, Russian spies who eat, breathe and live American in a typical neighbourhood, not drawing attention to themselves, and able to assimilate into society effortlessly.
The million dollar question here is really whether Angelina Jolie's Salt, is a hero, anti-hero or plain villain, in this action-espionage tale directed by Philip Noyce who at one time helmed some of the Jack Ryan movies starring Harrison Ford, so political intrigue, and spy stories are right up his alley. Also, writer Kurt Wimmer had given us stories such as Law Abiding Citizen, The Recruit, adapted Street Kings, and written-directed Equilibrium and Ultraviolet, so we'd know what we're in for with his better films balancing action and drama, while duds like Ultraviolet had its action sequences to thank to get us through a boring plot.
But thank goodness it is precisely that keeping us guessing, coupled with some nicely designed action sequences that made this film palatable. Tom Cruise was once attached to the project before he ran away, because well, this film featured a lot of running, which Tom has done to death so many times in his films. In comes Angelina Jolie and the story rewritten to accommodate a sex change, and yes, Jolie excels in her alpha-female, no-nonsense kick-butt role as a woman hunted by her colleagues when fingered by a Russian defector to be a Russian spy. And really with her being the marquee name, Salt relies very much on her charisma and indestructible best to engage the audience in her adventures involving assassination and new world order type of subplots.
Which will leave you guessing just where her allegiance is drawn, since we see her working undercover for the CIA as a field operative together with Schreiber's Ted Winter, and whom Chiwetel Ejiofor's Peabody of their counter-terrorism unit wants to reign in for questioning after that iota of suspicion was raised. That forms the crux of the film stringing together action sequence after action sequence, some just the plain ol fisticuffs, while others are quite unique such as the driving of a car via Tazer. Yes, you read that right. And one of my favourite scenes involved Salt at her acrobatic best at finishing off a rival at the finale, which is effective, but highly brutal.
The flashback that tells of the origins and motivation of these spies was quite intriguing, and makes you wonder if there's some truth to it, since one really needs to churn out assembly lines of operatives with rock solid allegiance so as to survive living in a new environment. Not all will make it, especially with being constantly bombarded on a daily basis by all things alien, and running the risk of Love coming into the picture, which the film suggests is a powerful emotion able to tame the wildest of hearts. And if you don't buy this concept at all, then you'll probably don't buy into this film.
I suppose if the film does well, there may be sequels or even a spin off television series since Noyce and Wimmer left things open-ended deliberately for room to develop Salt's world further, since there is enough room for continued plot twists that like Infernal Affairs shown, can possibly be bandied around at any timeline surrounding this one.