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Angelina Jolie stars in 'Salt' as a CIA superspy

Angelina Jolie plays a CIA superspy, in the new movie ‘Salt,' a high-octane action thriller.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / July 23, 2010

'Salt' scene: Angelina Jolie stars as 'Evelyn Salt.'

Andrew Schwartz/Columbia Pictures - Sony/AP

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In her new movie “Salt,” Angelina Jolie is outfitted in blond wigs, black wigs, jumpsuits, pantsuits. She can appear eerily strait-laced in one scene and goth in the next. She’s probably the most dynamic action star in the movies right now and certainly the most exotic.

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In “Salt,” she’s playing a role that originally was meant for Tom Cruise; I don't lament the switch. The part could just as easily have been set up for Matt Damon. Although the principal filmmakers – director Phillip Noyce, screenwriter Kurt Wimmer and cinematographer Robert Elswit – seem to have had a “Bourne”-style franchise in mind, their film is a bit too wiggy and perverse for that.

It’s also unapologetically a throwback to cold warriorism. Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA undercover superspy first seen in flashback being tortured by her North Korean captors – just to set the film’s temperature. (All in a day’s work.)

Two years later, in Washington, D.C., where Evelyn is cozily ensconced with her doting German arachnologist husband (August Diehl), she is named as a Russian spy by a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski), who also warns of an imminent assassination attempt in the US against the visiting Russian president.

Denying the accusation, fearful for her husband’s safety, Evelyn flees the CIA’s dragnet and spends much of the rest of the film slicing, dicing, blasting, garroting, slithering down elevator shafts, falling out of planes, and doing high-rise backflips onto speeding semis. And all of this without so much as a smirk. She’s not even afraid of spiders.

Despite the fact that Evelyn’s calisthenics, at least at first, are propelled by her love for her husband, she’s not a romantic. She’s too glacéed and otherworldly for that. Jolie resembles here, as she did to an even greater extent in the “Lara Croft” movies and “Wanted” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” a supersized action figure. There’s an animatronic blankness to her features (even allowing for the fact that Evelyn must always be wary of revealing her true emotions).

Paradoxically, this blankness makes her more compelling than the usual action emoter because we are never quite sure what she’s up to or when she’ll explode. Evelyn is almost preternaturally cunning – in less than a minute she can fashion a wastebasket and fire extinguisher into a lethal weapon – but she doesn’t appear to need any time to machinate. Provoked, she turns into an instant destructo machine.

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