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Salt

Year: 2010
Studio: Columbia
Director: Phillip Noyce
Producer: Lorenzo Bonaventura
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor

In 2006, I interviewed Philip Noyce for his apartheid thriller Catch a Fire. At the time, film fans were really excited – much had been made of his apparent falling out with big Hollywood thrillers, returning home to make small, affecting dramas like Rabbit Proof Fence and The Quiet American.

When I asked about his reinvention, Noyce said it was good to be 'part of the solution and not part of the problem'. When I asked if he missed the technicalities, he raised his hands and pointed his index fingers in opposite directions, saying most of the time was an exercise in logistics, spent directing traffic.

Noyce either forgot all about how much he disliked directing traffic, needed the money (Catch a Fire was his last film until now) or he thought the high octane Salt might somehow provide small, intimate dramatic moments in between Angelina jumping from the roof of one moving truck to another and fighting off various gangs of elite government goons single handedly.

Judging by the short synopses of his next few projects ('a pair of spies fall for each other while on separate missions', 'an FBI agent engages in an affair with an informer that threatens to destroy his career and marriage', I'm guessing a mixture of the first and second options.

There's nothing really wrong with Salt. Once a Tom Cruise vehicle now rewritten around a female lead, it keeps the pedal to the metal all the way through, and as far as the 'superspy' genre goes, it's great entertainment. But after proving he's capable of so much more nuance it's kind of disappointing to see Noyce lapse back into being just another fight scene choreographer and pyrotechnics manager for a Hollywood studio.

Salt (Jolie) is a dedicated and lethal CIA operative. When a mysterious Russian defector is bought in claiming to have top-secret information about as assassination attempt on the Russian president during his forthcoming US visit, he tells Salt hers is the name of the Russian sleeper agent who will be activated to make the hit.

Confused and afraid (or so we think), Salt busts out of her office while her superiors are trying to figure out whether to believe her and kicks off a breakneck chase to New York, the site of the planned assassination.

Calling it an empty action thriller isn't quite fair. There are a few twists that actually give it a story, but in order to really surprise us, a few screenwriters need to stop relying on the old chestnut of having the people we think are the bad guys suddenly reveal themselves to be the good guys (and vice versa). It's such a cliché you can pick them as soon as you meet them...better than the CIA obviously can, anyway.

For all her A list status, Jolie doesn't look quite comfortable as the stoic, dead-eyed covert agent. She's always been better in dramatic (or even comic) roles than action. But she's joined by an able supporting cast that give this B movie thriller a little more class than it might have had otherwise.

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