Saturday, July 31, 2010
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Before I saw the film I noticed that an American friend had posted on Facebook that he thought Salt was one of the worst movies of the year. Which I didn't completely buy (for obvious reasons, if nothing else thanks to a particular director of Asian ethnicity). Reviews were mixed, but Salt's box office performed pretty well against Inception.
Having seen the film, I'll mostly just state what I posted on Facebook: 8/10. Pitch-perfect pacing (editing), Angelina Jolie's nuanced performance, plus excellent casting choices overall, with a plot that doesn't surrender its twists easily while keeping an eye on audience expectations throughout, and moderately exciting action sequences, with an engaging action score ... and, for once, a political action thriller.
To embellish further ... The movie was a surprisingly short 100 minutes, considering that the movie had so much plot points to squeeze in; so much happens that it felt like 2 hours had passed. But I was really impressed with the editing. Judging by the shots we see in the trailer, quite a lot of story beats were cut out, that is, not whole scenes, but bits and parts of a scene, and I'll bet the movie is better for it. As a result, the story just moves, very important for an action film. It doesn't even linger for some briefly melodramatic scenes, which makes it even more poignant.
I say Angelina Jolie's performance is nuanced, and that is obviously rare in action movies, where you don't tend to notice such things, and hence actors don't tend to bother. Is it Oscar-worthy? Depending on the rest of the year's female performances, if I were an Academy member I'd put her name down for nomination. But then look at the other casting choices. I won't go into details, except in one case: August Diehl. His is a small role, but for some reason I noticed, which to me signals that as small as his role is, the intangible things he brings to the role is important – in fact, so important, or else Angelina Jolie's performance wouldn't seem so good. But watching it superficially, it would not seem like he's doing much.
Diehl, as it turns out, played Sturmbahnführer Hellstrom in Inglourious Basterds (the one who threatens to spoil the plans in the extended German bar sequence), where his performance impressed Brad Pitt enough to recommend him for this film. Interestingly, his English is not tinged with heavy German accents ... in fact, most German actors barely carry any of that stereotypical Austro-German accents that people love to poke fun at nowadays. How intriguing.
There was a major plot twist which I didn't see coming, but which I recognise that, given a lesser director and editing team, would probably be blown wide open at least halfway into the film. And obviously if you sat down to analyse the film (such time in your hands you have), you'd be able to prise the plotholes flesh by flesh from the movie – but I consider the film a successful one if it manages to make us like it enough, and paces the movie properly that we don't notice).
I spent the movie thinking, damn, the score's signature is familiar, but couldn't really work out who the composer was. Of course, it was James Newton Howard. Good choice. (The last political thriller score he composed was, I think, The Interpreter. The effectiveness of that movie's climax depended on his music.)
I shan't say anymore, but direct you to Roger Ebert's review, with which I wholeheartedly agree with, which is not always the case.