Monday, August 2, 2010

Femonomics at the Movies: Salt

I'm a little late to the game on this one - it's been a week since I've seen Salt and everyone has already written about it! Easily the most anticipated movie of the year (for this mongoose, at least), the picture is Angelina Jolie's return to a starring role in an action flick (Jolie plays the eponymous Salt). I enjoyed Tomb Raider, and was a big fan of Mr and Mrs Smith - the movie that launched an entire tabloid industry. So, was I disappointed?

The Viewer's Angle

In short, no - but neither was I elated. Salt is an unrelenting action film - not an action-comedy, action-romance, or even action-drama. The basic plot is a chase, with the FBI chasing Salt, and Salt chasing a mysterious group of bad guys to which she might belong. I have to agree with David Edelstein's review that "the movie is a blast, even though - and this might be a deal-breaker for some people - it makes no sense, at all!"

For pure action though, Salt has really nailed the basics. The players are top notch (Jolie and costar Liev Schreiber have some major acting chops between them), the pacing is relentless, the stunts are exciting and until the climax seem pretty real (you feel the hits). The running time is right around 90 minutes, allowing viewers to stay in their seats and engaged, a pleasant break from recent films that seem to go on and on. I did want more character development for Salt, however. Outside of a few flashbacks to life with her husband, we don't get much on the character herself, and we have to unpick the bits we get from her cover. The end leaves the film well-positioned for a sequel (or series, really), so hopefully we will get to learn more in future installments.

The Feminist Angle

Firstly, leading female carrying an action movie - that's still a big deal! Let's look at the big action films so far this year:
  • Shutter Island
  • Green Zone
  • Clash of the Titans (I saw it - I regret it)
  • The Losers
  • Iron Man 2
  • Robin Hood
  • The A-Team
  • Eclipse (does it count?)
  • Inception
None of them have, as a primary star, a woman. While it may not be particularly progressive to headline a woman in 2010, we still have a long way to go in terms of representation. (This argument holds true for politics as well.)

Over at Salon, Scott Mendelson argues that Salt is "fake feminism" because the filmmakers rewrote the script for a woman, and in the process changed the dynamic where the male Salt would have saved his wife, arguing that this was "castrating." That is a very unfortunate choice of language - I imagine most husbands would rather be saved from life-threatening danger than not, even if it meant losing a little bit of face (which it doesn't have to). Mendelson explains:
The filmmakers believe that it was perfectly OK for the spouse to be rescued from mortal danger if said love interest was a girl, but not if the romantic partner was a man. Apparently, it's great if the action hero is a girl, as long as she doesn't have the opportunity to one-up any male counterparts or reverse the oldest cliché in the action-film handbook. Saying that girls can be portrayed as helpless damsels in distress but boys can't or shouldn't be is the very opposite of the sort of "progress" that Noyce and Jolie claim to be making.
Which would be great, if that's how it was written. But he wrote the post before the film was released, and didn't have all the information. To put it simply, Salt one-ups A LOT of men in this movie. She is super intense, and spends half the film in mens' clothing to boot. Jolie herself has thought a lot about the unique quality of the role for a woman, and for any action star to play a relatively unsympathetic action hero. You can read an interview with her about it here.

A couple of other feminist reviews to take a look at:
Feminist Review: Salt
Angelina Jolie in 'Salt' Proves Girls Can Take a Hit (and Throw a Punch)

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