celebrity matriarch angelina jolie teaches war and treason like a melancholy drag queen in salt
by armond white
here's three lessons supermom angelina jolie teaches her benetton brood-and by extension, the global movie audience-in salt: 1. the united states is an overweening superpower more inept than its enemies from russia, korea and the middle east; 2. violence is the answer to all political conflict; 3. killing is fun.
contrary to jolie's public face as an international celebrity matriarch, her on-screen career is based on frivolous or fatuous treachery, from the laura croft video game-movies to a mighty heart and now this spy thriller, where, as evelyn salt, she might be a double-agent involved in plots to assassinate the president of the united states.
jolie mixes personal beliefs with hollywood prerogative-the same as brad pitt, george clooney and matt damon. salt has more ambiguity than anything by that boys club, but it offends one's cinematic and political sensibilities just as carelessly as syriana, green zone or inglourious basterds. these hollywood liberals exploit their privilege, defaming america, undermining national confidence and carelessly trifling in politics. salt's insensitive what-if scenario focuses on terrorists who incite "the greatest war the world has ever seen."
this post-9/11 callousness is liberal hollywood's default mode. "utilitarian is the new sexy," says evelyn salt's cia colleague (liev schreiber), yet the film perverts jolie's sex symbol status, making her a strangely androgynous enigma: costumed in unconvincing blonde and brunette wigs, dieted to anorexic thinness, she plays a fast-thinking, 85-pound killing machine. it's meant to be breathlessly exciting like the preposterous bourne movies, with director philip noyce's blurry, imprecise action scenes. without absolute clarity about salt's combat technique or her motives (is she a mole? a vengeful lover? traitor? patriot?), however, there's little emotional investment. we're simply meant to root for jolie's celebrity status, not salt's character, which isn't even as well-defined as the cartoony laura croft. recall that it was in the tomb raider sequel that jolie's croft character memorably told terry sheridan (gerard butler): "i'm not leaving because i can't kill you. i'm leaving because i could." garbo's mata hari never had a better sign-off; evelyn salt is mostly mute.
what salt never articulates but relentlessly demonstrates is a kind of liberal presumption and lingering anti-bush cynicism such as time magazine's critic praised in both the green zone and prince of persia, that undermines recent u.s. foreign policy. such escapist action tropes somehow make suspense indistinguishable from sedition. this thrill-ride is based on witnessing u.s. vulnerability and ineptitude. salt bounces off walls, off 18-wheel trucks and police cars, decimating cia and secret service personnel with uncompromising, unstoppable determination. essentially a series of anti-military battle scenes, salt teases the fun and implicit righteousness of treasonous behavior-something jane fonda never even came close to doing during the vietnam era. bizarrely, 9/11 has unleashed the craziest, most self-destructive liberal fantasies. noyce imagines assassins descending into the white house's security bunker-a reckless supposition that makes air force one look like young mr. lincoln.
salt is also reminiscent of fail-safe, clooney's tv directorial debut that was a liberal-masochist drama where the united states' president permits russia to bomb new york city. here, jolie dispatches americans like a melancholy drag queen. her first cia battle even includes a how-to bomb-making sequence using janitorial products. fact is, she fights harder against americans than she does the north koreans who torture her during the film's opening scene: "i'm not who you think i am" salt whimpers. it's eventually shown how she was trained in "idiosyncrasy and ideology," indoctrinated into american idioms by brady bunch episodes. this should expose the film's absurdity but, due to its political confusion (a cliffhanger-franchise ending to please both msnbc and fox news), salt will probably be taken seriously-unlike the credible and poetic historical satire jonah hex. not even neveldine-taylor would devise a scene like the one where salt's killing spree is accompanied by a disco theme song where her name is chanted between gunshots: movie-music to betray your country by.
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