The ending of Salt pissed me off.
Salt was a cut above the action fare this summer, but that’s kind of like saying I like asparagus better than spinach but I really hate both. It was Angelina Jolie doing what Angelina Jolie does best, which is looking freakishly beautiful while kicking ass and blowing shit up. But Salt was oddly joyless, a perfunctory double-crossing spy thriller that slid from mildly entertaining to mildly baffling and back to mildly entertaining. I checked out on Salt when, toward the end, the FBI agent who has been leading the manhunt (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 2012, Love Actually) asks Salt, “You expect me to believe you just saved the world?” and Salt answers, “I hope so.”
Jason Bourne would never say, “I hope so.” Jason Bourne would kill the FBI agent with his boot heel for daring to question him. And it isn’t that male action heroes are better than female action heroes, because Jolie’s Salt is as badass and tough as Jason Bourne ever was. The movie just wasn’t up to Jolie’s level. Jason Bourne is sympathetic because, like the audience, he doesn’t know what’s going on and has to discover the truth. He’s a dangerous man, even a bad one, but his lack of memory has erased that persona and replaced it with someone just struggling to understand, just like the audience. Meanwhile Salt, as a character, had all the advantages. She was like Godzilla ravaging Tokyo—the city never stood a chance. The audience doesn’t know who Salt is, but Salt knows from the beginning exactly what is going on. In the end, Salt is a revenge tale starring a maybe-reformed terrorist. Forgive me if my sympathy and affection for the character is a bit thin.
What really killed Salt for me was its ending. Salt has nixed the nuclear threat but she’s been arrested. The FBI agent (seriously, what was his name?) begins to believe her, that there was a much larger conspiracy at work and only Salt can stop it. So he lets her go. Salt plummets into Potomac, and is last seen sprinting through the woods. End credits roll. WHAT?!
It isn’t the open-ended nature of this movie that bugs me. After all, Inception had an open ending, and I loved it, you loved it—two weeks later and the whole country is still talking about it. Not every movie has to end with a big pretty bow, making everything nice and neat. A movie like Salt, one that could possibly support a franchise, doesn’t need that big pretty bow either. But it does need some closure. As someone commented after I bitched about that ending on twitter, it feels like part of the movie got left on the cutting room floor.
Salt assumes it’s getting a sequel. From the beginning, this movie was designed with no ending because the filmmakers said, “Who the hell cares about plot resolution, we’ll just make a sequel.” No. Bad dog. You can’t toss narrative convention out the window because you THINK you’re getting a sequel. In fact, your assumption that you will get a sequel makes me hope you don’t get a sequel. Because I’m spiteful like that.
There are plenty of movies with no endings that don’t bother me. By and large, they’re all non-linear narratives, like pretty much every David Lynch movie ever, all of which just stop at whatever point Lynch feels would fuck with us the most. Or movies like Inception, which leaves us thinking about the nature of what we just saw—what was real, what was imagined? Pulling off an open ending that doesn’t leave your audience feeling angry and abandoned takes a lot of thought and planning. It’s about a specific concept that has been built into the movie from the very first frame and everything builds to the cut off. What Salt did was not high-concept filmmaking, it was lazy.
Angelina Jolie is one bad bitch and I never like her so much as when she’s shoving her boot down someone’s throat and blowing shit up. She’s a decent actress and a smart woman, certainly above the half-assed filmmaking of Salt. I want to support her as an action star; I want to have an actress capable of opening a blockbuster. But not if it means I have to accept lazy, cheap filmmaking like Salt.