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At The Movies: Salt (or, Angelina Jolie Almost Passes As A Bloke)

2010 October 1

So, let’s kick off with a film review.  We dispatched Markgraf, our resident celluloid-addict, off to the cinema with orders to bring back the lowdown on SALT. [*** SPOILER WARNING goes here!***]

Or an aeroplane made of BICEPS

Once upon a time, some people hatched upon an idea for a film.  “Let’s make a film about an undercover agent, who’s so far under cover, NO-ONE knows who he’s working for any more!  Not even him!”

“Awesome!” said some other dudes.  “And there can be car chases and gun-fights and explosions!”

“…And spiders!” said Brian, from the back.

“And there’ll be a torture scene,” the other dudes continued, “And bombs, and we can blow up a church.”  They continued in this vein, getting more and more excited about the idea, until one of them (not Brian, who was playing with an orbweb he’d found) said, “But who are we going to get to play this guy?”

And the conversation went quiet.  “Er,” said one of them, “Jason… Statham?”

“Nah, he needs to speak Russian.”

“Russell Crowe?”

“GOD no.  And he’s still too busy getting fellated by Ridley Scott.”

The conversation fell silent as they contemplated the options.  They needed someone serious, energetic, stealthy, Russian-speaking and with the personal chutzpah to carry such a multifaceted title role.

“Angelina Jolie!” said Brian.

The other guys looked at him.  “Brian,” someone said, “I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you, but Angelina Jolie has a vagina.”

Brian blinked a few times.  “So?” he said.

Image: Columbia Pictures.

AND THUS, I assume, SALT WAS BORN.  True story – it was written with a bloke in mind for the title role, but the part ended up in Angelina Jolie’s bony little hands.  And she does well!  She does really well.  I say this quite apart from my love of good old Ange’s acting – she’s severe, stalwart and precise, which is exactly what the role needs.

But you can see the seams where they’ve added things in or changed things so that the role is “more suitable for a woman”.  There aren’t many things.  Hell, she casts aside her heels in favour of being barefoot in order to escape the CIA and make a rocket launcher out of a table leg and a fire extinguisher.

But there are things.  It’s a shame.  Like, at the beginning when, as I said, she makes a rocket launcher out of cleaning products, spit and hope – she’s been using the fire extinguisher to blind the CCTV cameras as she goes, and when she starts to need that for her improvised explosive device, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING comes to her brilliant mind, apparently, to cover the camera in the room OTHER THAN HER PANTS.

You heard me.  Evelyn Salt, the master of improvised brilliance and clawing her way out of a corner, is stumped by the plethora of chemicals at her disposal and chooses to blind a camera with her (small, black, lacy) panties.

Thanks, film-makers!  Because that’s what women would do, isn’t it.  Let us consider, for a moment, other (male) action heroes who have used their underwear to stealth past unwanted observers.  Do you remember that bit in Assassin’s Creed where Altaiir uses his pants to blindfold a guard so that he can stab up Robert de Sable?  Of course you don’t!  Because he didn’t.  (Presumably because he was a 12th century Assassin and I’m not sure if they even had pants).

If only the Womanification of Salt’s role had stayed at the occasional panty shot and her perplexingly ever-perfect hair.

Whenever she inflicts bloody violence, the cinematographic eye watching her is shaky and squeamish.  There’s a bit, for instance, where she smashes a bottle and glasses a man to death with it.  All you see of this action is her reaction, on her face.  And some squishy noises.  Let us compare the bit in Casino Royale where Bond smashes a man into a sink until he dies.  It’s gritty, hard, and completely unflinchingly filmed.  The focus is on Bond’s actions, rather than his reaction.  In Salt, the focus is most definitely on her own reactions to her violence rather than on the violence itself.

Her motivation stinks of “Oh those crazy, emotional women and their dependence on men!” I wish it didn’t.  I really do wish I didn’t have to tell you what I do now.  I mean, avoiding detailed spoilers and all, but Salt’s entire motivation to ruin the rules that held her previously was sparked by her marriage (she married for love, don’t you know!).  It’s very ham-fistedly plonked in, too.  It doesn’t fit with anything else we’re told about Salt.  It’s like we’re suddenly expected to believe that this hardened motherfucker who’s been through psychological programming, torture and worse is going to go all wounded vixen over a man.  Seriously?

That said, Salt’s husband (played by the eye-meltingly gorgeous August Diehl, previously familiar to me as the creepy uniformed Gestapo officer in Tarantino’s brilliant Inglourious Basterds last year) fills the role usually played by women in this sort of film perfectly.  He’s seen a few times, doing his thing (spiders, as it happens: thanks, Brian!) and glimpsed in emotional flashbacks and then ultimately used as a tool against Salt.

But does she really need this, and just this, to serve as the sole motivation for her actions?

Would a man?

I’m not sure.  I’m still mulling this one over.  From the way the events pan out, it looks like she’s been planning her defection from much earlier – but why?  There’s no satisfactory explanation given.  And it’s a big defection – not just something you could do on a whim.

All that said, it is a super film, and there’s a good chunk of gender-bending in it, too.  I do love my gender bending.  Angelina looks proper smashing as a bloke.  A bloke in uniform, no less.  Lovely.  You listening, Hollywood?  More like that, please!  Cross-dressing that isn’t put there for a cheap laugh!  Is it a first?  Possibly not, but it certainly made me happy.  Also, the fact that she ends up with short hair means that I wasn’t distracted and put off by the Swinging Curtain Of Unrealistic Feminine Follicular Perfection.


  • It’s fun
  • Angelina Jolie is convincing and heroic
  • She carries her own as practically the only woman in this male-dominated film with gravitas
  • There’s SPIDERS
  • There will be lots in it for you if you have a boner for violence


  • Bond never twanged his pants at Scaramanga
  • Oh god I have just had the best idea for Bond fanfiction ever


The author would like to make it clear that neither he – nor his boyfriend – hold a negative view of homosexuality. Apologies to readers who felt this piece was written in a way which was open to that interpretation.

This site is a learning experience for all of us, and we hope you’ll keep reading.

19 Responses leave one →
  1. October 1, 2010

    This article made me laugh :)

  2. October 1, 2010

    Brilliant review! I had no desire to see this film, but now I am intrigued. And presumably it passes the Bechdel Test?

    • Markgraf permalink
      October 1, 2010

      Actually no – I had to think about this, but Evelyn is LITERALLY the only woman in the film!! What the hell? So there’s that.

  3. Helen permalink
    October 1, 2010

    Hmmm… I may go and see it anyway if there’s cross-dressing that isn’t “hilarious.”

    Surely small lacy pants would also be inefficient at covering a camera? Lace is, after all, mostly holes.

    • Markgraf permalink
      October 1, 2010

      You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

      The other amazing thing about the cross-dressing bit – it’s done with prosthetics, and then she *tears her own face off*.

      Now if that’s now awesome, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS.

  4. levantate permalink
    October 1, 2010

    I loved this movie, but WORD about the panties.

  5. October 1, 2010

    I wasn’t entirely sure where this review was going to be honest. Because it seems a lot like you concentrate the review on where there are some problematic elements in the film but then give far more reasons why one should go to see this film than reasons not to. And this is without even addressing the fact this film fails the Bechdel test which to my mind is a pretty serious omission for a feminist review.

    Seems like Salt can be best summed up as saying that this is a fairly normal hollywood action film with no real interesting elements from a feminist perspective. I mean even the idea of having a role written for a man but played by a woman is old news since it was done (and by the sounds of it done more convincingly by Sigorney Weaver in Alien). No panties on cameras in Alien I can tell you – she plays it pretty much straight down the line.

    But and I do appreciate here that this is a new site getting off the ground, but this is a big but. I would take issue with your language here – “too busy getting fellated by Ridley Scott” and “if you have a boner for violence”. In the first case I cannot believe that in a feminist blog you are using a phrase which is so clearly intended to be negative and which carries the weight that fellatio between men is either somehow negative (and lets face it is therefore homophobic) or that this somehow feminises Ridley Scott in a pegorative way and is therefore anti-women. In the second case using “boner” I don’t know if you are trying to be edgy but this sort of male normative language is a total turn off. Do you know how sexually aggressive the word “boner” is for women. Why are you deliberately using exclusive and marginalising language here?

    I mean exclusive language and a review missing things like the Bechdel test are fairly common on the internet – and that is why I don’t both reading sites that don’t act inclusively but seriously for a “feminist” website this was pretty hurtful and surprising to come across.

    • Miranda permalink
      October 2, 2010

      Hey Becky,

      First of all thanks for reading.

      I knew when I set this site up that it absolutely wouldn’t please everyone, and I’m okay with that. I’m sorry that this piece isn’t your cup of tea, but at the same time, this site is a platform for a group of different voices. We’re a pretty broad church in here and our style guide very deliberately does not include pointers such as “you will always start with Bechdel”. We are very much aware of Bechdel at BR HQ. For some of the other pieces we have coming up on here, it is central. But there is not, to my mind, a tick-box on an invisible Ten Commandments of Feminist Blogging that this site fails if a review takes a different approach.

      Without wishing to speak for the whole team, I’ll say that I think it’s an excellent tool for raising awareness of sexism and bias in the movie industry. But passing it isn’t the gold standard – generally for me it’s the bare minimum. On the other hand, many films continue to fail it, but still, I think, are worth a look – and a fair few films that pass it are quite definitely not my personal cup of tea at all. While this film does not pass it, our reviewer enjoyed it, for the most part, and had things to say about its treatment of its female protagonist. This was enough to get me as a reader thinking, and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. I had a similar time at Scott Pilgrim recently – while it does pass it, I don’t think it passes it with all guns blazing in the least. But I did, in the end, enjoy the film.

      We’re aware that this film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, too – but we wanted to kick off with a piece on something that’s been in the cinema relatively recently. Hollywood made a lot of self-congratulatory noise, as it is wont to do, about the casting decisions for this film, so we thought we’d check it out.

      The language in use here is not intended to offend, and certainly isn’t intended to be homophobic or “anti-women”, but I’m certainly sorry if you did draw that from it. Some of our posters will use colourful language, and where we draw the line may differ from your own mileage. How language, especially language that is perceived as “normative” to one group, can and should be used across different groups is a whole debate in itself. We undeniably live with and use a very phallocentric language every day, and people’s choices around how they respond to that fact are certainly food for thought.

      Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown recently addressed a complaint about her tone – it’s a little different in context to your complaint here, but I think it’s an interesting comparison. She titled her post “Why TigerBeatdown Uses Jokes: Turns Out Some Motherfucker Had To Ask Me”. Some readers, I imagine, will inevitably take issue with her use of the word “motherfucker”. I think she’s aware of the arguments on both sides. Her blog continues to be a favourite on my bookmarks, and she remains one of my favourite feminist bloggers out there.

      The feminist blogosphere is a rich and varied tapestry. It is certainly the case that not everyone who uses the word “bitch” perjoratively from time to time hates women, for example. I know feminists who don’t like it as a word point blank, and I know feminists who are not bothered. Not everybody will choose to change their habits as a part of their feminism. If they keep talking about feminism, and reclaiming that particular word first and foremost, it’s still a win in my book. But your mileage may vary, and that’s okay too.

    • Jenni permalink
      October 4, 2010

      I’d dispute your ‘so clearly intended to be negative’ here. Markgraf often makes ungrounded assumptions about the sex lives of other people/celebrities/Harry Potter characters/trees/rocks/plants, but he’s not being negative.If anything, I believe it’s more like wishful thinking. (Dear Markgraf, not everyone is having sex ALL THE TIME.)

      You’ll never find the idea that ‘that’s gay’ means ‘that’s bad/awful/uncool’ on THIS site. Never.

      As for the exclusive language, yes, the phrase ‘have a boner for X’ (to mean someone likes or enjoys X,) IS very exclusive, in the same way as the phrase ‘have the balls’ or ‘man up’ is exclusive. I think Markgraf could analyse his langauge use in this respect!

      However I’ve noticed Markgraf will use hyper-hyper-masculinised langauge while mercilessly mocking macho films and culture. In this way I think he draws attention to how ridiculous these concepts of masculinity are. It’s all about the context. That’s just my opinion, though.

    • October 12, 2010

      I agree with you – and totally winced, especially at the Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe imagined oral sex bit. Hey, they’re really close male friends… there’s something a bit FRUITY about that! Sigh. Rolleyes.

      Another bit of very problematic language: the use of the word “lame” in a pejorative sense. See here for more –

      I think this blog has some good initial posts, and I will subscribe, but I’m a bit wary about the language. The defence of irony only goes so far. Wasn’t there research which showed that people who hear sexist jokes are more likely to make sexist assumptions immediately afterwards? So even when language is used in jest, it can be harmful.

      I’m not saying we feminists are all shrinking violets who should avoid naughty words; but the “ironic” hyper-masculine, homophobic and ableist terms in the review really grated.

      • Miranda permalink
        October 12, 2010

        Hey Jo,

        Thanks for commenting.

        First, I am inclined to agree with you on “lame”, and have edited it out accordingly, and will apologise on behalf of this site for the dropping of the ball in that instance.

        On this post, we have added an edit which we hope serves as an apology for the linguistic own-goals. I think that what happened with this post is mainly a case of us all adjusting to public blogging, really – as a team, we started out reading each other’s work in contexts that just aren’t applicable to the world at large.

        Going forward, I hope you’ll stick around.

        • October 12, 2010

          Hi Miranda

          Thanks for the clarification – it’s heartening, and it’s good to hear concerns taken seriously. :) I love my pop culture dissections served with a healthy dose of feminism, so look forward to future posts.

  6. Metal-eating arachnid permalink
    October 2, 2010

    “but why? There’s no satisfactory explanation given.” was pretty much my enduring reaction to the film, which I really wanted to like as a mindless action movie with Angelina Jolie wielding guns and exploding things. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped, for reasons unrelated to its feminist lackings (imho, nobody seemed to have any very clear motivations and the plot was more unconvincing than I was willing to allow even a mindless action movie).

    But! I did love the cross-dressing and the face-ripping. And I also loved the removal of heels, as running in heels is one of my personal rage flashpoints. I can cope with all sorts of jumping between trains/trucks/cars and implausible kicking abilities *as long as they’re done in sensible shoes*.

    Interesting thoughts re Salt’s relation to her husband. I didn’t actually have much problem with her motivation being based on their relationship, theoretically (in practice I’d no investment in it since I thought the flashbacks were so boring, but never mind that). And in fact I’d say the gender-reversed situation is really very common – women playing hardly any role as characters in their own right, but their suffering serving to motivate the male protagonist into action/revenge. Apparently, in the original man-starring version, there was a big sequence where Salt saved his wife, but they decided the relationship needed changing in the Angelina version:

    ”[director says]: ”And what we found was when Evelyn Salt saved her husband in the new script, it seemed to castrate his character a little. So we had to change the nature of that relationship.” In the end, Salt’s husband was made tough enough that he didn’t need saving, thank you very much.”,,20363774,00.html

    This article was from before the film was released – those who’ve seen the film might wonder if husband really benefited much from the change. But it’s an interesting insight into what is and isn’t acceptable Hollywood masculinity…

    • October 3, 2010

      I hadn’t read that they changed the husband’s role as having him saved seemed to castrate him (like pregnancy, I’m not sure this is something you can do just a little bit?) So here we go again, Hollywood – quite happy for for women to be saved by big goddamn hero husbands; but you can’t possibly have a woman saving a man, because it diminishes him.

      So much for flag-waving for feminism / gender equality, eh?

    • Markgraf permalink
      October 3, 2010

      Hey there, thanks for commenting!

      “He didn’t need saving, thank you very much”

      It’s sentences like this that make me despair. If they can do this over male characters getting saved, why in the actual seven hells can’t they ask the same question about women?! WHY. WHAT IS DIFFERENT. HOW IS IT DIFFERENT.

    • Jenni permalink
      October 4, 2010

      Argh. That quotation is infuriating!

  7. Miranda permalink
    October 12, 2010

    We’ve now put an edit into the post:

    The author would like to make it clear that neither he – nor his boyfriend – hold a negative view of homosexuality. Apologies to readers who felt this piece was written in a way which was open to that interpretation.

    This site is a learning experience for all of us, and we hope you’ll keep reading.

    As this edit did involve some disclosure about a writer, it was only right that we took some time to talk about it first, but now that it’s up, we hope it helps to reassure our readers.

  8. Custard permalink
    October 12, 2010

    I am very late to this conversation o.o

    But I wanted to add that killing the husband made the movie for me – normally when a female movie character is widowed she falls to pieces or goes into a blind rage but if anything Salt became more focused and determined to do what she needed to do, avenging both his death and everything that happened to her as a child. The masculine role allowed her to be capable, strong and intelligent. If she had saved the husband she would have had to have held back later on because she still would have had something to come back to.

    I liked the movie, Jolie was awesomes, but Milla Jovovich is my favourite action hero

  9. November 17, 2010

    As much as I agree with a ‘pantie debacle’ and a shocking lack of other female characters on the screen, I have to say, I liked ‘Salt’. It’s rare to get an ass-kicking heroine who doesn’t run around in skimpy clothes. In that context, I thought that a moment when Salt takes off her high-heels was fantastic and rather symbolic. Also, the p&a didn’t show Jodie in the infamous tit-ass poses (see the latest Zack Snyder project, or most of the movies, for that matter).

    I also thought that Salt’s line ‘they took everything from me’ was essential to psychological bedrock of her personality. To me, it was obvious that, as much as she loved her husband, she would have fought the russian spies regardless of his death. She simply despised the fact that as a child she was put, without given an option, in a brain-washing system. I think that she would have thought the Russians nonetheless, because it was the lack of freedom they imprinted in her life that she resented. The death of her husband was a kind of ‘add-on factor’.

    The scene, where she drives a car with a guy’s body? Priceless.

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