The Salton Sea (2002) Warner Brothers
1 hr. 43 mins.
Starring: Val Kilmer, Doug Hutchison and Vincent D’Onofrio
Directed by: D.J. Caruso

The Salton Sea



Photo: Warner Brothers

A strong sense of originality and ambitiousness permeates through first time Director D.J. Caruso’s ‘The Salton Sea’. Val Kilmer stars as a widower who seeks a violent retribution for his wife’s brutal murder. Concocting an elaborate scheme to infiltrate the criminal underworld, he abrogates his previous identity in order to adhere to this mischievous plan.

Caruso fills his frames wisely and has some truly unique shots within the film, yet while viewing the film I couldn’t help but think back to an earlier film that was familiar to this area. The ‘style over substance’ issue is one I frequent quite often within my opinionated pieces. The Hughes Brothers’ ‘From Hell’ is a vivid example of how style takes precedence over substance. Just as the former film lacked an embedded quality of storytelling, so does ‘The Salton Sea’; yet to a lesser extent. D.J. Caruso has an innate talent for photographing even the most mundane sets with a profound sense of elegance, and he brought a weak script by Tony Gayton to a mediocre level. Gayton who seems top have struck a deal with Castle Rock Productions (the film’s company) as he penned both ‘Murder by Numbers’ and ‘The Salton Sea’ needs to infuse his future themes with some sense of purpose.

While the script for ‘Sea’ is more enlightening than his first effort, Gayton owes a debt of gratitude to Caruso who showcases his portfolio of talent within one film. The main problem with the film is not so much its’ content, but rather its’ storytelling. The pacing of the film leaves a lot to be desired and those who give the film a chance will enjoy it, yet it seems to drag itself at times incorporating useless subplots for sheer mock value. A solid case in point is the R. Lee Ermey scene in which he makes a cameo as a distressed father (Blink and you will miss it), furthermore do we truly need an explanation on narcotics?

While the opening sequence was somewhat comedic, I questioned Caruso’s motivation in showing us the underground world of narcotics. The film opens up with an elegant trumpet filled voice over as Kilmer’s character Danny Parker retells his story in Memento-like fashion. Taking a page from the Christopher Nolan School of cinema, the film unravels through subtle flashback sequences that immerse the viewer in some stunning cinematography, but weak on plot.

In addition, Kilmer is simply not believable as a middle aged widower who somehow seems to befriend a group of ‘tweakers’ (Severe drug users) and easily becomes just one of the guys. His miscast begins our problems as the viewer is treated to a barrage of flaws all against the backdrop of a talented Director’s first effort with a weak concept. The healthy inoculation of stylish comedic sequences and unexpected humor lend the film an original taste that is a sign of potential within the young filmmaker.

In terms of character development, this trait is a needed improvement for future films. We are treated to larger than life, muffled, two dimensional characters that cease to elicit our attention. An unrecognizable Vincent D’Onofrio plays Pooh Bear, a nose-less villain whose ruthless ways and demeanor intimidate Parker’s scheme while he attempts at eluding two detectives (Anthony LaPaglia & Doug Hutchison) on the case.

As aforementioned, the film is a classy flick about retribution. Is it a truly great film? No. But what it does exude is that the Director has a knack for the medium and saved a sour film from going awry. One last note, before heading into the theatre, study the poster and attempt to make the correlation between the poster and the film. It is pervasive, but interesting. Here is a clue, study the film’s final moments.

Click here to comment on this review or post your own thoughts.

Giancarlo De Lisi


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