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Salt: Deluxe Unrated Edition DVD Review

Salt (2010) movie poster Salt

Theatrical Release: July 23, 2010 / Running Time: 100 Minutes (Theatrical Cut), 101 Minutes (Unrated Extended Cut), 104 Minutes (Unrated Director's Cut) / Rating: PG-13 (Theatrical Cut), Unrated (Others)

Director: Phillip Noyce / Writer: Kurt Wimmer

Cast: Angelina Jolie (Evelyn A. Salt/Chenkov), Liev Schreiber (Ted Winter), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Peabody), Daniel Olbrychski (Oleg Vassily Orlov), August Diehl (Mike Krause), Daniel Pearce (Young Orlov), Hunt Block (U.S. President Lewis), Andre Braugher (Secretary of Defense), Olek Krupa (Russian President Boris Matveyev), Cassidy Hinkle (12-Year-Old Chenkov), Corey Stoll (Shnaider), Vladislav Koulikov (Chenkov's Father), Olya Zuela (Chenkov's Mother), Kevin O'Donnell (Young CIA Officer), Gaius Charles (CIA Officer)

Buy Salt from Amazon.com: Deluxe Unrated Edition DVD • Deluxe Unrated Edition Blu-ray • Theatrical Edition DVD


After the modest rebound Valkyrie afforded him, Tom Cruise had his choice of five major studio movies to headline. He picked a project that had been in development hell for years, a film he would make with Cameron Diaz and which we would come to know as Knight and Day. The makers of Salt, one of the other scripts Cruise had been considering, decided to cast the next logical actor in his place: Angelina Jolie.
All they had to do was change "Edwin" to "Evelyn" and the gender of pronouns and they were good to go. I don't think they could have done that for any other actress, but then no other actress has had as much experience as Jolie in mainstream action flicks.

In the film's opening, Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is pleading with her captors/torturers in a North Korean prison that she is not a spy. We soon find out she was lying. Fast-forward two years and it is the anniversary of her wedding to the German arachnologist (August Diehl) who choreographed her release. It seems like just another day on the job for blonde CIA agent Salt, but about a half-hour before she can go home and celebrate, she is called to deal with a Russian defector volunteering some eye-raising information. He claims that his homeland has been training (i.e. brainwashing) children to infiltrate the US government through a revolutionary long-time program. What's more is that one such individual is soon supposed to assassinate Russia's president. That one individual: Salt.

It sure looks like the agent is lying again, at least that's what distrustful Agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) thinks. Her closer colleague Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) is convinced his friend is no Russian spy. But Salt's impulse to take any measure to escape her locked down Washington office does seem suspicious. As does her newly-blackened hair and arrival in New York on the day that Russia's president is attending a U.S. vice president's funeral at St. Bartholomew's Church.

At second glance, Evelyn A. Salt (Angelina Jolie) appears to be an ordinary married CIA career woman. But at third glance, hopping on moving trucks to get away from her colleagues lends credence to the Russian defector's claims that Salt (Angelina Jolie) is the Russian superspy Chenkov.

Salt plays kind of like a lesser version of Harrison Ford's The Fugitive, in which the title character seems far from innocent. How could that be? This was a summer film, a big-budget affair starring one of America's biggest movie stars. Could its heroine really be a murderous villain? It certainly seems like it, to the point where you realize there might not even be enough time left for the twists you thought were coming.

The problem is it's tough to care much either way. Salt is onscreen for the majority of the picture,
but we never get a reason or opportunity to sympathize with her. Even as her marriage is fleshed out in flashbacks, her evident guilt and stone cold demeanor make it tough for us to want her to continue preposterously avoiding the authorities with her butt-kicking skills. The movie doesn't seem to care what you think. In fact, it would clearly prefer if you didn't think at all. This is a turn-off-your-brain movie. As far as mindless cinema goes, however, it is fairly engrossing.

I'm not ordinarily drawn to action films. Those with a seemingly generic espionage plots especially seem unlikely to bring anything new to the table. And Salt does not, but it does keep you interested for 95 minutes of glass-shattering, gunfire, guessing, and running about. That is all that people ask of certain movies and if executed slickly enough (as Salt is, per its $110 M production budget), they are pleased as punch. I prefer movies with a little more substance. The experience has to be truly extraordinary if you leave it with no thoughts in your head or feelings in your heart. There are no characters to latch onto, no emotions to invest. Major figures are killed before our eyes and there is no reaction or shock.

There is no way to pin this design on false advertising or wrong expectations. Salt was promoted as simply an upbeat action movie, to which director Phillip Noyce is no stranger, having helmed, among other things, Harrison Ford's two Jack Ryan movies and Jolie's The Bone Collector. Lone credited screenwriter Kurt Wimmer doesn't even have that distinguished a résumé, mostly sharing credit on quickly forgotten movies like Sphere and The Recruit (although the online public maintains above average estimations of Street Kings, Law Abiding Citizen, and, his directing debut, Equilibrium). Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) had received writer attribution during production, but goes unmentioned on the film itself.

Salt became one of the higher-earning works for most of those associated with it, narrowly clearing its budget domestically with $118.3 M and adding a predictably significant amount from overseas markets. It seems like much of the credit can go to Jolie, whose face and neck filled the long in advance teaser poster. Among the movies Salt performed better than were Knight and Day, implying that Jolie is a bigger movie star than Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz put together. Pair her with Johnny Depp (one of the other movies Cruise turned down), however, and that's a very different story.

Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Winter (Liev Schreiber), the two leading CIA agents in pursuit, have different inclinations as to how to deal with Salt's rebellious runaways, with one prepared to shoot and the other wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt. Salt (Angelina Jolie) sports some serious bruises in the alternate ending interrogation of the DVD's Unrated Extended Cut.

Salt makes its DVD and Blu-ray debut next week. For those who liked the movie in theaters, it is released just like that on a DVD billed the Theatrical Edition. For the same price, however, you can get the movie in a Deluxe Unrated Edition that includes three versions of the film: the original theatrical version (1:39:53), an unrated extended cut (1:40:57), and an unrated director's cut (1:43:58). Blu-ray viewers have no choice but to accept the three cuts on the Deluxe Unrated Edition, the only Blu-ray option. I can't figure out why there is a choice on DVD, with the theatrical-only disc presently selling for $1 more than the 3-version disc on Amazon.com, but its relatively low sales rank there at least suggests many (but not enough) people know a no-brainer choice when they see it.

While those close runtimes suggest there is not a great deal to distinguish one cut from another, that isn't exactly true. One big difference is in one of the more significant scenes involving Salt's husband. To say more on the change would spoil a twist, but it is something you will notice the two longer cuts changing from the theatrical version. Another big difference is in the film's ending, which again I wouldn't want to reveal. The most significant departure is in the "Unrated Extended Cut", which offers completely different final sequences, involving an interrogation and a central death relocated to a foreign coda (effectively dropping perhaps the film's most dramatic sequence). Despite running just a minute longer than the theatrical cut, there is a good six minutes of unique footage, much of it less ambiguous and less tasteful than even the clunky theatrical conclusion. A few other minor edits separate the different versions (like a blue-lit orphanage night flashback) to small effect.

As usual, Sony flawlessly handles the seamless branching technology needed to offer three cuts on one ordinary DVD. Note, though, that unless you go through the main menu's "Play Movie" option, the screen to choose a version will not come up and you'll automatically be treated to the theatrical cut.

Salt: Deluxe Unrated Edition DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, English Descriptive Video Service),
Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: December 21, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.96
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available in Theatrical Edition DVD ($28.96 SRP) and
on Blu-ray Disc ($34.95 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

With the three cuts deftly handled, the DVD displays no woes from overextending itself. Nor, in typical Sony fashion, does it suffer from any real concerns. Picture in the 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is excellent. Detail, colors, sharpness, and clarity are everything you could want; there is no holding back the 720p to make the 1080i Blu-ray more attractive. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also a delight, delivering the anticipated blend of excitable score (by James Newton Howard), engulfing atmosphere, and directional effects without occupying too wide a volume range or drowning out the crisp dialogue. Russian dialogue is automatically translated by player-generated subtitles you can't accidentally deactivate.

A harnessed Angelina Jolie (a.k.a. "The Ultimate Action Hero") doesn't maintain her character's serious demeanor in between takes. Angelina becomes Mangelina in "Spy Disguise: The Looks of Evelyn Salt."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

First and longest among bonus features is an audio commentary by director Phillip Noyce, which is made available on all three cuts. In a few brief places, Noyce is joined by visual effects supervisor Robert Grasmere and music editor Joey Rand. For the most part, he is on his own,
talking almost non-stop (some would say incessantly) through the start of the end credits. Noyce is very rehearsed, seemingly with facts and figures in hand. He likes to talk about his career, as if the commentary is a forum for reflecting on his over 20 years of filmmaking. Occasionally, he hits upon an interesting topic, like money-saving rewrites/effects and the different schools of thoughts on online piracy. The rest of the time, he is just moderately engaging, reflecting upon the subject matter and production. Impressively, the commentary does differ based on the cut you choose, but only in the parts that diverge.

Video extras begins with "Angelina Jolie: The Ultimate Action Hero" (8:05), an ode to the actress. Co-stars and crew members discuss all the things that make her so wonderful while Jolie weighs in on her attraction to the genre and its demands.

"Spy Disguise: The Looks of Evelyn Salt" (5:25) discusses, well, I'm sure you can figure it out. Of the character's transformations, the transgendered one garners most attention, with video of Jolie having prosthetics applied in the make-up chair.

Finally comes an extra unusual for a new film. Director Phillip Noyce is interviewed on Elvis Mitchell's KCRW radio talk show "The Treatment" (27:10). They talk about the realism of Salt in light of the perfectly timed New York Russian spies news item, Noyce's personal interest in spies, his filmmaking experiences around the globe, and his TV pilot "Brotherhood." While the piece could have doubled as a slow photo gallery, it opts instead to leave just a single Noyce image on throughout. Careful you don't get the dreaded Australian burn-in, Plasma-owning mates.

The disc kicks off with a promo for Sony's make.believe philosophy, full trailers for The Tourist and The Green Hornet, and a short home video spot for Takers. Joining the movie ones on the Previews menu are 15-second commercials for Easy A, Eat Pray Love, and The Other Guys, plus longer looks at Red Hill and Ticking Clock. Salt's own trailers are sadly not included.

The animated main menu places the obligatory movie clips on three-dimensionally floating computer screens and security monitors. Because the CIA and stuff. Submenus, of course, give us the static, silent version of that theme.

The one insert inside the Eco-Box keepcase promotes 3D Blu-ray on one side and offers a $5 coupon off a handful of recent and upcoming Sony movie titles on DVD and Blu-ray.

With her newly-styled, newly-dyed black hair, Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) eludes notice as she walks away from the scene of a severe police van wreck.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Salt is nice-looking, competently staged and reasonably engaging, but an ultimately stupid and forgettable action movie. If you just want a movie for chases, thrills, and cool effects, my unimpressed reaction shouldn't dissuade you. Just don't expect characters or story with depth.

The feature presentation is great and it is impressive that Sony has managed to include three different edits of the film, not forcing viewers to choose between a cut they may have liked and two they haven't seen. The differences are not extreme, but they seem to represent filmmaker intent and in as well-realized a way as modern technology allows.

Buy Salt from Amazon.com: Deluxe Unrated DVD / Deluxe Unrated Blu-ray / Theatrical DVD

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Related Reviews:
New: Knight and Day • Eat Pray Love • The Sorcerer's Apprentice • And Soon the Darkness
Angelina Jolie: Beowulf (Director's Cut) • Kung Fu Panda | Chiwetel Ejiofor: Kinky Boots | August Diehl: The Counterfeiters
James Bond Blu-ray Collection, Volumes 1 and 2 • Eastern Promises • Enemy of the State • Body of Lies
T.V. Sets: Action Packed • Get Smart • The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 • The Spy Next Door • Orphan • Next • Shooter

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Reviewed December 14, 2010.



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