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Snarky's Cinemachine: Evelyn Salt should smile more!

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The Aisle Seat wrote a paint-by-numbers review of Salt, which included this gem:
But absurdity is only part of the problem here. CIA agent Evelyn Salt (played by Angelina Jolie) has no other personality traits besides the fact that she's highly trained in all kinds of elite skills.

Cinematic depictions of spies devoid of engaging personalities are no novelty. In fact, with the exception of James Bond, more often than not, cinematic spies tend to provide more authenticity when they are not weighed down with personality traits at levels best left to proverbial used car salespeople and late night discount electronics peddlers.

David Denby of The New Yorker had this to say regarding Salt's personality:
Jolie's unending stare says that Evelyn Salt is impervious; her cool lies in how little she responds to what happens to her. She's an advanced fighting machine, an attempt at instant myth. I find her iciness repellent, yet she certainly dominates the movie.

"No other personality traits" and "iciness"? Damn it, Evelyn Salt, why won't you smile more? You're a woman for goodness sake; it's about time you started acting like one! Running for your life or halting nuclear annihilation rarely affords one the opportunity to present their most engaging selves, yet, somehow Evelyn Salt is asked to rehab her personality into something more recognizably female - lest she be mistaken for an "advanced fighting machine". We certainly wouldn't want that. What would the neighbors think? Curiously, in Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan, the level of somberness and technical proficiency is considered a refreshing departure from previous characterization of spies, which seemed to involve more bed hopping and hobnobbing than actual intel gathering or plot thwarting.

Salt is certainly not without flaws. To quote famed film critic Pauline Kael, "Great movies are rarely perfect movies." Salt isn't even great, but it is quite good, which is fine. As a summery, action thriller, it doesn't have to be. That said, remarks regarding Evelyn Salt's personality are not productive critiques of the film's deficits, particularly when they are based on extremely flawed, essentialist notions of gender. A far bigger concern is the way in which Salt traffics in reductive Cold War tropes, and positions Russian baddies as two dimensional enemies, who the audience is expected to dislike merely because they are Russian. It's uninspired writing and far more toxic to the overall enjoyment of the film than Salt's unwillingness to giggle and jiggle while kicking all kinds of ass.

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Comments

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Even more fun: bashing on

Even more fun: bashing on Jolie's public persona as if it was a valid criticism of the movie. I usually like Lindy West's reviews at The Stranger, but this one was just... strange. And dumb: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/salt-more-like-womb-raider-amirite/Co...

That review was harder to

That review was harder to take the second time around. Yikes!

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

David Denby

...is, I find, pretty consistently the worst. I'm not sure I could put my finger on exactly what it is in the way he writes about women in film that makes me so uncomfortable. But there's this kind of unique Denby creepiness? Having something to do with actors and their emotions? His comment on Marion Cotillard in Public Enemies is one example I always remember: "...Billie Frechette, played by Marion Cotillard with a combination of desperate hope and fear that is enormously appealing."

Or on Olivia Williams in The Ghost Writer: "she’s one of the rare actresses who seem more intelligent and beautiful as they get angrier."

Desperate hope and fear: appealing to David Denby! Professional superspy affectlessness: not appealing to David Denby! Anger: depends on whether or not you're Olivia Williams! Thanks, David!

Review

Anyone who like movies can expect some absurdity in their favorite action entertainment, what a strange point focused by Aisle Seat review...

And the femininity policing continues!

In this interview about her daughter Shiloh's clothing (because everyone loves to talk about that three-year old gender transgressor) Jolie said the following about her experience working on Salt:

For her part Angelina admits that even though she was acting, crew members were put off when she had to dress as a man for her role in the upcoming Salt. “It was fascinating,” she said. “The stunt guys I usually hung out talking to, didn’t want to hang out with me.”

Even the crew members who know her personally can't handle it if she stops being feminine enough for one minute! Because nothing is more disgusting and upsetting than a beautiful woman in a pair of pants, right?

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

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