Angelina Jolie is known for her strong female characters and nothing about her role as Evelyn Salt will change that. But if Laura Croft is tough in Tomb Raider, Evelyn is tougher. If Christine Collins is single-mindedly determined in Changeling, Evelyn is driven. If Jane Smith knows how to wield a gun in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Evelyn can mow down an entire squadron—all by herself. To state it simply, Evelyn Salt is like a CIA agent on steroids.
Unfortunately the film’s pacing is as unrelenting as Jolie’s character. Without a down moment for audience members to catch their breath, the story plunges forward with increasing intensity from the opening scene where a bloody, bruised and barely clothed Evelyn is tortured by North Korean nationals. And life doesn’t calm down when she is finally freed from her captors. Back in Washington D.C., she and other CIA operatives (Live Schreiber, Kevin O’Donnell, Gaius Charles) carry out their espionage under the guise of petroleum company employees. Then on the day of her wedding anniversary, a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) walks into the CIA’s undercover office, fully aware of the deception. He claims to have information about an imminent assassination plot. He also accuses Evelyn of being a Russian spy.
Her coworkers’ knee-jerk reaction to the old man’s allegation results in Evelyn’s immediate confinement. (It seems that in the counter intelligence arena trust is a rare commodity.) Unable to contact her husband (August Diehl) and worried about his welfare, Evelyn blasts her way out of the building and past a team of SWAT officers using a mixture of cleaning chemicals and a fire extinguisher. From that point the chase is on as Evelyn outruns, outshoots and outsmarts every agent she encounters.
Like her male counterparts in high-grossing espionage movies such as The Bourne Identity, Mission Impossible and Quantum of Solace, Evelyn is practically bulletproof. (She does endure a small graze on her midriff after highly trained US security officers fire a hail of slugs at her.) Surrounded and about to be captured, she throws herself off of an overpass landing on the top of a moving semi. From there she jumps from one truck to another. It might be incredible if it wasn’t so ridiculous. But then any sense of reality has to be checked at the ticket counter in order to engage in this violence packed script where this female spy takes down men twice her size, breaks necks, fires through cement walls and detonates grenades with reckless abandon.
With the body count rising as rapidly as conspiracy theories about sleeper agents and government plants, character development becomes a secondary consideration. Though Evelyn’s past is briefly unveiled through a series of flashbacks, the movie suffers from so many plot holes and fight scenes that it is hard to piece together any feasible explanation for the characters’ motivations. All we know is that there is a lot of ammunition being exchanged and that the security of the nation is in a pretty precarious state.
Setting itself up for a sequel, Salt feels anything but finished by the time the credits roll. But with this new action hero’s exaggerated and aggressive portrayal of "female empowerment", it is unlikely that even a follow-up story would contain a grain of truth.