Everyone in the world knows how hot Angelina Jolie is. Barack Obama is the United States’ first black president, Iran is making atomic weapons, and Angelina Jolie looks really good in tight clothing. It’s just one of the facts had by the entire international community.
And it is the fact that saved both Tomb Raider movies from ending up in a compost heap right after a direct-to-DVD release. Philip Noyce — who has in the past helmed Tom Clancy adaptations such as Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, as well as films like Bone Collector and Rabbit Proof Fence — seemed to have intrinsically understood that the world needed no further proof of Angelina’s iconic sex appeal. What she needed was a legitimate role as a kick-butt action-spy-hero. Tom Cruise has had it, as has Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, and pretty much every other contestant for People Magazine’s ever-popular (and ambiguously relevant) Sexiest Man Alive.
So why not give one of the sexiest women alive a shot?
For those of you who are not nearly as obsessively tuned-in to the (film) industry, let me inform you that Salt was a first. The studio that gave it the green-light wanted to see whether a female actress could carry this kind of film — one which would be sold primarily upon its merits as an action thriller, and not on the thighs, hips, breasts or lips of the female protagonist. Believe it or not, this has never been done before. It almost didn’t happen this time either — Tom Cruise was actually on board before the script was re-written for Jolie.
Let me tell you firsthand that it works. If we were to judge it solely on box office numbers, then it merely passes (only recently having made its money back). But Salt has also been something of a critical success, scoring a respectable 65 on Metacritic (a site which ends up being slightly better at representing actual critical reception than our beloved Rotten Tomatoes), with most critics saying it serves up a nicely crafted action flick without holding up anything too impressive in the way of plot.
But that was the whole point, wasn’t it? Let’s deliver a solid, effective, entertaining action movie with a respectable female action star in the lead.
Go see this film and then pat yourself on the back, because, first of all, you just spent ten bucks well, and you also proved that the more testosterone-driven Western audiences are willing to spend two hours with a woman on the big screen for reasons outside of lust. When Angelina Jolie serves up can after can of whoop-A in this movie, it’s not sexy — it’s awesome.
The absurd plot and modestly functional writing are serviceable and about the best we can expect from action-thrillers (although they occasionally deliver beyond our reasonable expectations, filling us with delighted surprise, but I digress). The point is that it exercises mastery in the craft of visual kinesis. Its pace and structure, as well as the scenes and sequences within that structure, are driven and exciting. It’s there to give you a good time without making you feel bad about it afterward.
But ultimately, Angelina Jolie carries the film on her feminine shoulders. In that regard, it is a triumph — and while Evelyn Salt may not go down in history as one of cinema’s most important spies, she’ll probably pop up in future research papers and esoteric film-nerd discussions as the woman who truly opened the door for legitimate female spy heroes. Here’s to hoping many more of our favorite actresses walk through it.
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