This is a genre film steeped in genre expectations and conventions, where every story beat feels prescribed, except that the whole thing is about a woman instead of a man. Of course, I knew going in that it’d been written for Tom Cruise, and the net result here shows just how easily and effectively Hollywood could fix its gender imbalance simply by changing the characters’ names from men to women. Its almost accidentally subversive gender politics are the headline item unfortunately – and even then, Salt’s singularity as a female operative becomes itself the classic problem that having a single strong female character doesn’t obviate the monotony of an otherwise all-male cast. Still ahead of virtually all its contemporaries, it is nevertheless behind where it needs to be.
The plot is utterly bonkers and labyrinthine, with one of the more elaborate mega-villainous plans ever. What makes it even slightly interesting is its choice of a Russian as the ultimate villain, and the resurrection of the classic cold-war plot lines in a world with an abundance of other targets. It feels almost like a reaction against using the popular target, Al Qaeda and derivatives. The plot required a long-term plan with a high level of infiltration and complex execution when it comes to it – is there a subtle kind of racism that while we’ve crushed our own freedom in the face of isolated radicals, we can’t even fictionally conceive of them having an elaborate plan that we accepted the Russians executing for two generations? There is a requirement for this plot of a central organising force apparently considered beyond the powers of any current rival to The West. There is a basic physiological similarity between Americans and Russians that is lacking with, say, the Chinese, but had they gone another route it would have added an interesting frisson of real-world politics that is entirely absent in this total fantasy.
Salt is broadly similar in intensity and basic storytelling competence to numerous other “recent” films, but it’s no The Long Kiss Goodnight, which is really what I was hoping for.