So goes the tagline for Angelina Jolie's latest film after a two-year absence from the silver screen. And, much like another famous (and rhyming) question, "Who is John Galt?," Evelyn Salt proves herself to be just as mysterious and multi-faceted. Though it is no secret that the script was originally intended to be played by a male lead, Jolie still manages to surprise with just how well she is able to hold her own in a genre that has primarily been reserved for men.
Opening in everyone's favorite capital for torture and general scariness, North Korea, Salt is tormented brutally when she does not admit to her enemies that she is a spy. Already within the first minute, it seems she will not survive. And that trepidation persists for most of the film as we watch Salt fight for her liberty from the CIA agents in pursuit of her after an inscrutable Russian named Orlov tips them off to the idea that she is a Russian spy, the concept of which could not be more chic right now in the wake of Anna Chapman's arrest in New York.
Naturally, when her colleagues become privy to the insinuation, they try to lock her into a room for questioning. But this bitch ain't having none of that. She concocts a simple yet elaborate bomb, explodes her way out, and runs away in search of her husband, Mike (August Diehl), a German scholar of spiders and the person who was responsible for her safe return from North Korea. From there, she goes to her apartment to find him. Once again, in the natural progression of Kurt Wimmer's (another screenwriter to loathe on the basis of the money he's made on a string of similar action stories, including The Recruit, Ultraviolet, and Law Abiding Citizen) script, Salt comes home to discover an overturned chair and an uneaten sandwich--short of an unexpected onset of diarrhea, these are all the telltale signs of an abduction.
At this point, it would seem like Salt's new mission would be solely to find her missing husband, but it quickly devolves into fulfilling everyone's suspicions about her as a Russian spy planted in the CIA to ultimately assassinate the Russian president at the U.S. vice president's funeral (but I highly doubt there would be that much fanfare over the death of a vice president. Joe Biden could die today and a lot of people would say, "Who?").
Since it does appear that spy movies are having a renaissance, other films will be hard-pressed to match the twists and turns of Salt. Take another, much shittier "spy movie" from earlier this summer, Killers. Although it was marketed as more of a comedy to compensate for its badness, it had many of the same key points: People are planted within normal, everyday life to strike when the time is right, no one is to be trusted, and everyone you thought you could trust is a total liar and asshole. Director Phillip Noyce (who also directed Jolie in The Bone Collector) is very adept at wielding the script in this way, evoking paranoia and mistrust at every corner. And he deserves many accolades for one of the best (or at least in the top five) scenes in the film: Salt strangling someone (who shall remain unnamed) by lurching upward, catching the person's neck with the chains that are binding her hands, and "falling" off the side of the staircase.
To say anymore about the film would be to ruin the suspense, so I'll just say this: As with most movies released in the summer, there is definitely sequel potential. Angelina Jolie may have briefly been distracted by children and UNICEF, but she is back in a big way judging both from her flawless action genre moves and from how many upcoming projects she has been working on (most notably the biopics about Cleopatra and Gucci).