Salt is a 2010 American action thriller spy film directed by Phillip Noyce, written by Kurt Wimmer, and starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Daniel Olbrychski, August Diehl and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, who is accused of being a Russian sleeper cell agent and goes on the run to try to clear her name.
Evelyn Salt is being tortured in a North Korean prison on suspicion of being an American spy. Her boyfriend, arachnologist Mike Krause, generates so much publicity that the CIA is forced to arrange a prisoner exchange, despite the agency's policy against it. Salt's CIA colleague Ted Winter greets Salt at the border. As they drive away, Mike proposes, despite Salt admitting that she is in fact a CIA operative.
Two years later, on Salt and Mike's wedding anniversary, a Russian defector named Oleg Vasilyevich Orlov walks in to Salt's office. Salt interrogates him, with Winter and CIA counterintelligence officer Darryl Peabody observing. Orlov claims that, on "Day X", highly trained Russian sleeper agents known as 'KAs' will destroy the U.S. Orlov tells them that Agent "KA-12" will assassinate Russian president Boris Matveyev at the funeral of the American Vice President. Orlov reveals that KA-12 is named Evelyn Salt, and lie detectors confirm his entire story. Peabody orders Salt be detained, but Orlov kills two agents and escapes. In the confusion, Salt is able to escape as well, running barefoot through the street. While she is being chased, she discovers that Mike was kidnapped.
Later, at the funeral, Salt appears to succeed in killing President Matveyev, and then surrenders herself. Matveyev is declared dead. Salt escapes again and heads to a barge where Orlov is hiding with other sleeper agents. In a series of flashbacks, Salt recalls growing up in the Soviet Union and being trained with other children. On the barge, Orlov welcomes her back and has Mike killed in front of her. When Salt shows no reaction, Orlov is convinced she is loyal and begins briefing her on her next mission. She is to rendezvous with another KA who will help her assassinate the American president. Salt then kills Orlov and all of the other agents on the barge. She then meets with KA Shnaider, who uses his cover as a NATO liaison to get Salt into the White House. Once inside, Shnaider launches a suicide attack to force agents to move the President to an underground bunker, accompanied by Winter. Salt follows them and manages to enter the bunker before it is sealed.
The US President learns that Russia has mobilized its nuclear arsenal in response to their president's death. He orders American nuclear weapons readied in response. CIA Agent Winter then suddenly kills everyone except the President and introduces himself as Nikolai Tarkovsky, another KA. Winter incapacitates the President and begins aiming nuclear missiles at Mecca and Tehran to incite millions of Muslims against the United States. Salt tries to persuade Winter to let her inside the sealed room, but then he sees a television report that President Matveyev is alive and well: Salt had used spider venom to cause a simulated death of Matveyev. Winter refuses her entry and reveals that Mike's kidnapping and her blown cover were his idea. Winter plans to place full blame for the nuclear attacks on Salt. Salt breaks into the room before he can launch the missiles. The two wrestle for control of the nuclear football, with Salt aborting the missile strikes before being captured.
As Salt is being led out in chains, Winter grabs a pair of scissors, apparently to attack her or to defend himself if necessary. She unexpectedly hooks her chain around Winter's neck and jumps over the stair railing, choking him to death. On the helicopter ride to be interrogated, Peabody questions her. Salt explains that she killed Winter because he was a KA, and that she is loyal to the U.S.. Peabody is convinced after receiving a text that Salt's fingerprints were found on the barge where the sleeper agents were killed, supporting her story. Salt is allowed to escape, jumping out of the helicopter into the river below and escaping into the woods, planning to hunt down the rest of the KA sleeper agents that are still out there.
- Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt/Natasha Chenkova
- Liev Schreiber as Theodore "Ted" Winter/Nikolai Tarkovsky
- Chiwetel Ejiofor as (Darryl) Peabody. His forename is not mentioned in the film.
- Daniel Olbrychski as Oleg Vasilyevich Orlov
- August Diehl as Michael Krause
- Daniel Pearce as Young Orlov
- Hunt Block as US President Howard Lewis
- Andre Braugher as Secretary of Defense
- Olek Krupa as Russian President Boris Matveyev
- Cassidy Hinkle as (young) Natasha Chenkov
- Corey Stoll as Shnaider
- Vladislav Koulikov as Chenkov's father
- Olya Zueva as Chenkov's mother
- Kevin O'Donnell as Young CIA officer
- Gaius Charles as CIA officer
Production Notes Edit
Development and writingEdit
The early development of the script began while Kurt Wimmer was doing interviews promoting Equilibrium. In a November 2002 interview, he discussed what scripts he was working on. He stated that "I have several scripts – foremost of which is one called The Far-Reaching Philosophy of Edwin A. Salt – kind of a high-action spy thriller..." In another interview, Wimmer described the project as "very much about me and my wife". The plot incorporated many elements from Equilibrium, with an oppressive and paranoid political system of brainwashing that gets overthrown by one of its high-ranking members who rebels due to an emotional transformation. With the shortened title Edwin A. Salt, the script was sold to Columbia Pictures in January 2007. By July 2007, the script had attracted the attention of Tom Cruise.
Terry George was the first director to join the project, and he also did some revisions to the script, but he soon left the project. Peter Berg was the next director to consider, but he too, eventually dropped out for undisclosed reasons. A year later it was confirmed that Phillip Noyce would direct. Noyce was attracted to Salt for its espionage themes, which are present in most of his filmography, as well as the tension of a character that tries to prove his innocence yet also does what he was previously accused of.
Initial discussions took place in 2008 between Tom Cruise and Noyce about Cruise playing Edwin A. Salt. These discussions were ongoing for more than a year between the pair and their representatives. It was finally decided that Cruise was unable to commit to the script, because he feared that the character was too close to his Mission: Impossible character Ethan Hunt. Cruise decided to work on Knight and Day instead. The filmmakers tried to differentiate the character from Hunt, but eventually came to accept they were too similar and decided not to change the characteristics of Salt. Noyce said "But, you know, he had a valid point. It was kind of returning to an offshoot of a character that he’d already played. It’s like playing the brother, or the cousin, of somebody that you played in another movie".
Columbia Pictures executive Amy Pascal suggested Angelina Jolie to Noyce, who had often spoken to Jolie in the past about a desire to create a female spy franchise. Pascal even invited Jolie for a Bond girl role, but the actress playfully replied that she was more interested in playing James Bond himself instead. Jolie was sent Salt's script in September 2008 and liked it. Wimmer, Noyce, and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura went to visit Jolie at her home in France to discuss a possible script and character change. Writer Brian Helgeland helped with the character development and dialogue of the script based on the notes that came out of those discussions with Jolie and to accompany the gender change, the title character's name was changed to Evelyn Salt.
One of Jolie's requests was to rework the third act, which originally had Salt rescue his wife and son from a coalition of villains, because she did not believe a mother would neglect her child in this kind of situation. Wimmer decided to then make Salt more crucial to the villain's schemes, and add a sequence where Salt breaks into "a place harder than Fort Knox" – after considering Camp David, Wimmer settled on the White House. When asked if the script written for Cruise was the same for Jolie, he said "I think that it’s just been a continual process, obviously accelerating by changing the central character. But the ideas – the locomotive of ideas that drive the film are the same. An undercover CIA operative is accused of being a Russian mole, and has to go on the run to defend himself. That’s been the same since day one. The tone of the film has changed in this evolution. In the same way, I guess, as – you know – action thrillers have changed along the lines of the Bond films and the Bourne films".
On February 19, 2009, it was reported that Liev Schreiber would play the role of Ted Winter, Evelyn Salt's friend and colleague in the CIA. Three days later Chiwetel Ejiofor named as CIA Officer Peabody, who is in pursuit of Salt. Noyce said Ejiofor, whom he first saw in Dirty Pretty Things, seemed to have the "intelligence and disarming sort of obsessiveness" that a counter-intelligence officer would need. August Diehl, who played Salt's husband Mike Krause, came after a recommendation from Jolie's partner Brad Pitt, who had worked with Diehl in Inglourious Basterds, and Daniel Olbrychski was chosen for Orlov because Andrei Konchalovsky told Noyce that such an evil Russian character could only be played by a Polish actor.
On a budget of $110 million, principal photography took place mostly on location in New York and Washington, D.C. from March to June 2009. Noyce decided to avoid "typical post-card views of Washington DC" to reflect "the more day-to-day environment of massive federal buildings inhabited by the typical bureaucrat". The opening sequence in North Korea was shot at the Floyd Bennett Field, with an extra who had experience with prisoner exchange acting as a consultant. Salt's rendezvous with Orlov was shot on the "Frying Pan", a former lighthouse ship, now moored in the Hudson River, at 26th Street in New York. The outside of the KA training facility was the Makaryev Monastery in Russia, while the interior was the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection in New York's East Village. Filming for a chase sequence took place in Albany on Water Street near the Interstate 787 ramp between April and May. Studio production took place at Grumman Studios in Bethpage, Long Island, New York. While the film was in post-production, di Bonaventura became dissatisfied with some scenes. Steven Zaillian was brought for uncredited rewrites, and reshoots, mostly of action scenes, were held in New York during January 2010. Filming also took place in upper Manhattan's neighborhood Washington Heights on 157th St and Riverside Dr. Some scenes were also filmed outside of Manhattan including The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, and in Westchester County.
After Jolie had just given birth to twins, she spent time training before filming to get fit in order to perform almost all of the stunts herself. Bonaventura said, "She is so prepared and so ready and gung-ho, she'll do any stunt. We had her jumping out of helicopters, shooting, jumping off of all sorts of things and infiltrating places that are impossible to infiltrate". Salt's fighting style was described as a mixture of Muay Thai, which was considered by the stunt team the most fit for Jolie's physique, and Krav Maga, for its rawness and aggressiveness. Noyce wanted to film the scene where Salt hangs from the edge of the building in a studio with chroma key, but Jolie insisted on doing it herself in the actual location. On May 29, 2009, filming was temporarily halted after Jolie suffered a minor head injury during filming an action scene. She was taken to a hospital as a precautionary measure and released on the same day with no serious injuries, allowing filming to resume. Salt's escape after being captured in St. Bartholomew's originally involved jumping her off a building into a window cleaning machine, but budgetary constraints caused the scene to be changed into a car chase.
Computer-generated imagery (CGI) was used extensively throughout the film to create environments and elements, such as bullet holes and flames. More dangerous objects such as a taser or the handcuffs used to strangle Winter were also made from CGI. Five companies were responsible for visual effects. The two most involved were CIS Vancouver and Framestore. CIS Vancouver recreated the White House since the crew did not have permission to shoot in the building, and made a digital elevator shaft for the scene where Salt goes down into the White House bunker. Framestore was responsible for the assassination attempt on the Russian president, which combined actual shots of St. Bartholomew's Church, a digital recreation of the church's interior, and scenes with actor Olek Krupa falling down a collapsing floor.
Female CIA officers were consulted about the creation of disguises, leading to the scene where Salt undergoes subtle changes to disguise herself as a Puerto Rican. The "sweet and caring" blonde Salt dyeing her hair black would represent the shift to Chenkov, the menacing Russian agent. For the scene where Salt disguises herself as a Major, pictures of Angelina Jolie were treated on Adobe Photoshop to create a believable male version, with the resulting image being used by the make-up team as an inspiration for the prosthetics.
Director Phillip Noyce has said that due to the extensive usage of flashbacks, "there was always going to be a mountain of alternative material that would not fit into the theatrical version." The film ended up having two extra versions, the Director's Cut and the Extended Cut – which Noyce refers to in his audio commentary as the film's original cut – both included on the DVD and Blu-ray Disc deluxe editions.
The Director's Cut was described by Noyce as "my own personal take on the material, free from the politics and restrictions of producers, studio or censorship ratings." Four minutes of film are added, leading to a running time of 104 minutes. More flashbacks are added, and the violence is amped up – for example Mike being drowned rather than shot to death. The ending is also different: in the bunker scene, Winter shoots the President instead of only knocking him unconscious, and a media report during the final scene reports that the new US President had been orphaned on a family visit to Russia, implying he is also a sleeper agent. Noyce has described this ending as "an ending yet just a beginning – and it's an ending that turns the whole story on its head".
The Extended Cut increases the running time by only one minute, but rewrites the plot by removing, rearranging and adding scenes. The ending has Salt escaping custody from the CIA and going to Russia, where she kills Orlov – his death scene at the barge does not appear in this cut – and destroys the facility where new child spies are being trained.
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