Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Screenplay Analysis: Salt

Ok, I just finished a book called "Screenplay: The Foundation of Screenwriting" by Syd Field, 3rd edition. A fascinating and insightful read assigned to me by my Creative Writing advisor. If any one is interested in writing a screenplay or just intrigued by how films are written, I highly recommend the book.

Anyways, the book states that every movie that we see on the big screens (i.e. scripts or treatments that actually get produced) follows a 3-act paradigm. Beginning, middle and end or setup, conflict and resolution with plot points at the end of acts 1 and 2 that propel the story forward, giving it direction. I believe the edition I had was printed in 1994, so some of the references are quite old. My advisor added a modern additive to the old paradigm called "false resolution" somewhere in the middle of Act 3. Everything else holds.

Moreover, Syd Field highlights the first 10 minutes of a film (or 10 pages of screenplay) as crucial for determining whether we as the viewer (or they as the reader) likes the movie. The first 10 minutes should clearly setup the main character, the premise of the story and the situation of what we will be seeing on screen.

To test out the theory, I bought a ticket to watch "Salt" a few hours ago, and here are my findings.


First 10 minutes
The main character, Salt, a highly trained CIA agent who had seen her share of action in North Korea as an unfortunate captive, is now happily married and looking forward to a normal life if her transfer goes well. That's the premise. The drama heightens when a Russian defector turns himself in at their undercover office.

Act 1: Setup
The defector accuses Salt of being a Russian spy who will kill the President of Russia during the US Vice-presidents funeral. She denies and attempts an elaborate escape from a locked-down CIA office. The plot point is clearly the tagline on the movie poster: "Who is Salt".

Act 2: Conflict
Under the pretense of finding and protecting her husband who is undeniably whirled up in the whole situation, she flees. Then, she appears to kill the Russian president at the US VP's funeral. But then she spares the life of the CIA agent who caught her doing so. But then, when she reunites with the defector who is in fact the one who trained her in Mother Russia, he kills her husband in front of her, which sends her identity i.e. "Who is Salt" spiraling out of orbit. There are many plot points in Act 2 which makes for brilliant conflict, but I believe the key plot point that brings a close to Act 2 is when Salt kills the defector and all the other Russian spies on board for taking her husband's life. Essentially, she defects.

Act 3: Resolution
We know by now Salt is not evil, and she follows through with the dead defector's plan to see how the situation plays out, and possibly stop it from succeeding. I am not sure what the false resolution is. It could be that the Russian president didn't really die (which he didn't); Salt was going to be condemned (but she wasn't) or her former CIA partner who turned out to be another Russian spy would succeed and frame Salt (close, but didn't on both accounts). In the final scene, with the help of the CIA agent she spared in Act 2, Salt's escape is "staged" and let loose on her former brethren.

Thus, the final resolution to the question of "Who is Salt" is this:

a) Salt is indeed a Russian spy
b) But her loyalty lies solely with her husband's safety
c) And since Russia took that away from her, she becomes a weapon against them out of revenge

Alas, the message of the movie is "love conquers all".

Or from the the Russian point of view: Don't send a woman to do a man's job.

Chauvinistic communists bastards!

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