As mentioned in Spys in Flats, I noticed a couple of gaping plot holes in this week’s new release, Salt. Well, to say I noticed them isn’t an attempt to flatter myself – you would have to be blind or in Hollywood to miss them. Or maybe they were noticed and nobody cared. I don’t know, but given that it looks like there may be a sequel, I thought a little illumination on the subject might be worthwhile.
Note that there are SPOILERS-A-PLENTY in the following.
At the beginning of the movie, and shown in all the previews I saw, Salt’s cover is blown. A Russian, who proves to have been her handler for the past 30 years or so, walks into the CIA (or whatever cookie-cutter-type agency) Salt works at, and gives up the information that there will be an attempt on the life of the Russian President while he’s in the States for a funeral. He then wraps up by saying that the assassin’s name is Evelyn Salt (and thus that Jolie is the spy).
She is, of course, immediately detained until they can look into this. During this time, the Russian agent kills his two escorts and walks to safety, leaving Salt (the Russian agent) to look out for herself.
Surely this must be the all-time most incomprehensible way of kicking off a mission! I mean, I’ve heard of leaving chalk marks on mailboxes, or having the window blinds half-way up. These days there’s email and phones and on and on and on. The only kickoff this guy could think of was to focus everybody’s attentions and suspicions on his long-hidden and very well-placed assassin?
It turns out that all this is a long-established plot to place well-trained Russian child agent sleepers in the US, so that they could grow up and attain positions of trust. Salt certainly did, and there are early indications that she’s not the only one. This isn’t a unique plot element, as I know I’ve read something similar before, but I can’t place it at the moment. Still, this general idea was handled well. So well, in fact, that the whole situation above seems even more moronic in comparison.
OK, so that’s one. Surely they would have had a way to notify Salt, to set her “active” and give her a mission, without blowing her cover at the same time (thus making it impossible – or movie-all-but-impossible – for her to succeed). Granted that thirty years ago it wouldn’t have been email, but there are plenty of options.
The second came at the end of the movie. Note that I’m not describing action-holes (one person going hand-to-hand with two or three other trained professionals and kicking their butts) here, but rather plot holes. Action holes are part of the genre, and we accept them even as we remember that these things are just begging to kill us if we tried them in real life. Just as punching somebody in the face is just as likely to break your fist as it is their jaw – still, there are few things as movie-satisfying as somebody crumpling under the hero’s (gender-free term) righteous blow.
OK, so the second plot hole (again, SPOILERS). As forecasted, there are other Russian sleepers in positions of trust. One of these gets Salt into the White House, and then sells his life in a bid to get the (US) President into a bunker under the White House. She also manages to get down there, and kicks and punches her way into the bunker itself. There she finds that (yet) another Russian sleeper has killed everyone but the President, after waiting for them to get the nuclear missile launch codes almost all the way verified. This new sleeper has a little conversation with the President (while Salt was running and kicking outside) in an attempt to get the President to OK the final launch, explaining the sleeper plot, giving his “real Russian name, and so on. The President bravely tells him to get lost, and receives a pistol-blow to the head for his troubles, knocking him unconscious – I think – after which his hand-print is used to verify the launch.
Two-minute delay before launching, during which time Salt breaks in, beats up the new sleeper, and cancels the launch at the last second. The (too late) security forces arrive at that moment, and shoot her in the back just as she disables the launch. It’s OK, she was shot in the vest (surprise, surprise) and is fine. Everybody knows getting shot in a bulletproof vest is like a walk in the park (never mind – action hole, not plot hole).
Here comes the plot hole: Salt, in cuffs, is marched out of the bunker, through the White House, toward a helicopter that will take her somewhere cold and dark (presumably). They walk her right past the new sleeper (the guy who killed all the bunker personnel and knocked out the President). She, in quite a cool scene, kills him. The reasoning she gives is that someone had to do it, and that nobody else would believe he was a sleeper.
What about the President?
Unless I missed it (always possible) there is no clear indication that the President is dead. You don’t see him again, but the sleeper does say “Somebody look after the President” or words to that effect when the security people finally break into the bunker and shoot Salt. The President is certainly never shot (though others are, and shooting him would have been a great “evil sleeper agent” moment). So, as far as I can tell, the President (who, you remember, heard what amounts to a full confession by the new sleeper agent) is alive and well, though possibly with a headache (another action plot hole to do with blows to the head and concussions, but never mind).
Salt, at the end of the movie, is on the run, having vowed to kill the other sleepers. OK, and more power to her, but there’s no reason for her to be on the run at all. Two minutes with the President, asking him to point a finger at the person who hit him and killed everybody else, would be enough to clear up the ultimate-bad-guy problem. Now, granted, Salt did cause a little mayhem and beat up some people. She even shot some folks, but they were just red-shirts (turns out she didn’t kill the Russian President after all, just paralyzed him). So, maybe a slap on the wrist …
Now, obviously this movie wasn’t written by John Le Carré or even Tom Clancy, and I’ve been told it was originally meant for Tom Cruise – troubling in itself – but surely whomever did write it could have done better than this? I watch a fair number of movies and a fair amount of TV, and I’ve come to expect plastic-thin characters, meaningless dialogue, and plots that are obviously an excuse for action as opposed to a motivation for it. Even so, surely this must be a new low?
Or am I thinking too much about an action movie? Should everything (including plot) be put under the action-movie banner and just brainlessly enjoyed for what it is? Clearly, the Karate Kid franchise couldn’t survive any other way …