THE SALTON SEA
Review by Gordon Justesen
Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Goldberg, Luis Guzman, Doug Hutchinson,
Anthony LaPaglia, Glenn Plummer, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Kara Unger, Chandra
West, B.D. Wong
Director: D.J. Caruso
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 103 Minutes
Release Date: September 10, 2002
know what you're thinking, but don't give up on me just yet. Just wait till
I've told my whole story. And keep your eyes open. Nothing is as it seems.”
There have been
very few movies I have experienced that plunge you deep into a unrelentingly
bizarre world, and I stress the word bizarre to the fullest extent. We've been
down the road with proud-to-be lowlife characterizations in such movies as GoodFellas,
Pulp Fiction, and even A Clockwork
Orange, for that matter. Even though certain films have taken me to various
creepy atmospheres, nothing could've have prepared me for the brutal
audaciousness of The Salton Sea. This is an eye-gazing and hauntingly brilliant piece
of film noir that truly takes you to an eccentric underworld that is crazy to a
certain level, but the experience will had me wanting to re-enter that world.
There's no doubt
that this film was another birth child of Pulp
Fiction, a movie that since its release has spawned numerous so-called
wannabes, some of which were actually good, but never managed to find its own
distinctive quality. The Salton Sea is
therefore a rare case, because even though I spot several plot inspirations from
various movies, this film did an incredibly unique job of delivering its own
distinctive feel. It's a mind-bending mixture of Memento and Fear and Loathing
in Las Vegas, with a touch of Requiem
For a Dream. And throughout the movie, you seriously have no idea where in
the world you will be taken to next.
Val Kilmer, a much
underrated actor, creates a remarkable performance in what his by far one of his
greatest performances to date, ranking with his outstanding work in films such
as The Doors and Tombstone.
The opening of the film is tricky in the way it introduces Kilmer's character,
as through a voice over we are told even he isn't sure of what his name is, or
who he is anymore. Following a astounding sequence that tracks the history of
speed right from the day it was conceived, we are then plunged into the world of
this troubled soul, known as Danny Parker. Danny is associated with an
underground group known as the “tweakers”, a slang term for speed freaks.
Tweakers live for one thing only, which is the engaging of “the perpetual
night party”, as Danny puts it. He, along with his two closest acquaintances,
Kujo (Adam Goldberg) and Jimmy (Peter Sarsgaard), constantly feel the need to
party endlessly and scoring huge quantities of blow, even if it means going out
to buy some in the day time following a hot wired night.
But then it is
revealed who Danny Parker really is. His real name is Tom Van Allen, who was
previously a passionate jazz trumpet player with a beautiful wife, who was
brutally murdered as the result of a sour drug deal. Tom has been hell bent on
revenge ever since, and has become, under his alias, a drug informant for two
cops named Morgan (Doug Hutchinson) and Garcetti (Anthony LaPaglia). It is clear
that Tom is willing to go to critical extremes to avenge his wife's death,
which has thus landed him in his current disposition. He has setup a deal with a
notorious drug lord known as Pooh Bear, played in a high wire brilliance by a
barely recognizable Vincent D'Onofrio. This is some character, as Pooh Bear
acquires a prosthetic nose, which came as a result of the excessive cocaine
abuse that destroyed his actual nose. The fake nose makes him look like Pooh
Bear, which is why he dons the nickname.
between this character and Leonard Shelby in Memento are there, but since that film dealt with its plot in a
different narrative fashion with many tricky twists to it, it would be extremely
unfair to label The Salton Sea as a
clone of the earlier movie. The concept of this character caught between two
identities and two lifestyles, drug junkie and police informant, is unique in
its own right, and had it not had a strong actor as Kilmer helming the role, the
movie may have gone downhill as a result. We buy his character's ordeal
throughout the movie, and we care for him very much.
Credit should also
go to the supporting cast, which also includes Deborah Kara Unger as an abused
neighbor of Tom's, whom with she develops a quiet and tender relationship
with. Of all the supporting players, it's Vincent D'Onofrio who steals the
show with his all out portrayal of a truly insane individual. His introduction
scene is a hoot, as he restages the JFK assassination with pigeons in remote
control cars and actual snipers ready to fire. There have been many insane
characterizations, but D'Onofiro's ranks among the most original to date in
terms of creepiness.
First time director
D.J. Caruso has delivered a one of a kind movie experience, which I can honestly
say is not for the faint hearted. As far as film noirs go, this is one of the
best. Alive with a beautiful and haunting style, a terrifically woven plot, and
superb acting headlined by Val Kilmer's outstanding performance, The
Salton Sea is easily one of the year's truly best films.
delivered one terrific transfer after another this year, but it's The Salton Sea that will, in my honest opinion, go down as the
studio's best looking disc of the year. A film noir always carries with it a
undying sense of style and WB's flawless video transfer does not falter this
element for a single second, and does the film complete and absolute justice.
The anamorphic presentation is alive for the whole 103 minutes, emerging an
endless sharp and crisp image quality. Colors render extremely well in addition,
varying perfectly in different scenes. A pure dynamite reference quality
dialogue-driven, The Salton Sea does
have its occasional jolts that result in the high points of this quite superb
audio job. The 5.1 mix delivers in many areas, particularly that of background
music. Several scenes involving some unsettling violence trigger some grand
surround sound delivery, and numerous sequences, including one scene involving a
mind-blowing visualization of a planned robbery, hit all the high marks in terms
of channel pickup. A much impressive turnout.
Not the most
superior feat of extras you'll find, but I am much grateful to WB for not
leaving this somewhat underrated film in the dark. Included are two very
insightful documentaries; “Meth and Method”, which covers the production
design of the film, and “Embracing the Chaos”, which features interviews
with the cast and crew. Also featured is a trailer for the movie (one of the
best ones I've seen lately), and cast & director highlights.