Review: Salt (12A)****

All the talk has been around Tom Cruise first accepting and then rejecting the starring role in this hell-for-leather espionage caper. Then it was re-cast with Angelina Jolie.

Well, she's very good. And if the story owes more than a little to past spy thrillers like The Manchurian Candidate (Frankenheimer's original) and No Way Out, with a smidgen of The Fugitive, then so be it. For this is an edge-of-the-seat drama that really grips. In the hands of Philip Noyce, Salt ratchets up the tension to winning effect.

Agent and patriot Evelyn Salt is about to go home when she is asked to debrief a Russian defector. In the course of her questioning he names his contact in the US, a sleeper agent. It's Evelyn. Suddenly the forces of the United States are ranged against her and she is running for her life. Her only possible ally is her boss, and even he's not sure what the heck is going on.

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Salt is an old-school thriller that owes much to the paranoia and neurosis of the Cold War. It also proves that (some) female stars can be as effective as their male counterparts. In truth, there aren't many women who could convince in such a gutsy, gung-ho role. Jolie was seemingly made for it. She leaps from tall buildings, guns down the bad guys, dreams up mind-boggling weapons on the hoof and comes out fighting as a one-woman army capable of great ingenuity, great resilience and great violence.

The core of the story is an attempt to assassinate the American president. Some serious talent queues up to be a part of this quasi-intelligent but actually preposterous genre film. Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor are Salt's nemeses and there are some nice moments from Daniel Olbrychski, but this is Jolie's film. Love her or loathe her, the girl comes through every time. If Bourne was Bond with Matt Damon, then Salt is Bond with Angelina Jolie. It takes skill to be macho and glam at the same time without losing one's femininity. Jolie manages the lot. A sequel is a given.