The Salton Sea (2002)
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Review Date: May 10, 2002
Director: D.J. Caruso
Writer: Tony Gayton
Producers: Frank Darabont
Val Kilmer as Danny Parker
Vincent D'Onofrio as Pooh Bear
Doug Hutchison as Morgan
This film uses present day scenarios, flashbacks and narration to provide us with ongoing clues about a mysterious man's life within a world of "tweakers" (crystal meth addicts). Since the death of his wife, this mucho tattooed gentleman seems to have lost his way among these junkies. But is there a purpose to his life, to his behavior, to this movie? My vote? Yes.
A special kind of movie, this melancholic film noir reminded me a lot of MEMENTO, with strong performances, a sorted tale of murder, redemption, drugs, cool tattoos, and plenty of surprises for my absorbed ass. It also differs in the sense that it doesn't necessarily come right out and tell you what it's about. It starts on quite the mysterious tip and continues that way for some time, dropping little hints off here and there, giving us plenty of cool stuff to look at in the meantime, along with an underworld of folks, who are always fascinating to behold. I especially enjoyed this flick because it didn't dumb things down. It presented facts, ideas and motivations as they came up, and left it up to the viewer to figure shit out. I think what also helped was the consistently dark and charismatic presence of Val Kilmer. He managed to capture me entirely in his role as the drugged out "tweaker" with more on his mind than just the next hit. Vincent D'Onofrio is also quite the sight, once again, gaining over 40 pounds for an acting gig (something he said that he would never do again), and adding a lot more seediness and fright to the proceedings. He's definitely one of the more memorable characters in movies so far this year (the man has no nose, people!) Another solid performance among the group came from Peter Sarsgaard, who convinces as Kilmer's (gay?) right-hand man with plenty of innocence and love to give.

I also appreciated the imagery presented within the film, with some shots seemingly coming straight out of a painter's eye (was it me, or was the last shot in the movie an homage to surrealist Dali?). Many other cool camera tricks and mental games also worked here, with one specific scene involving a bottle of beer and drips on the floor, standing out in particular. I will, however, admit that the film's overuse of symbolism and a tad of pretense and self-consciousness almost pulled me out a few times (that's right, it gets a little "artsy-fartsy"), and a tired subplot featuring a nasty-looking Deborah Kara Unger, was underdeveloped and ultimately, felt out of place. But there was enough of an engaging mystery and light-hearted scenes (like the "fake" robbery attempt of Bob Hope's crap (I'm not kidding) and a BOOGIE NIGHTS-esque drug deal almost gone awry) to make up for it, and then some. I also liked how the flick actually managed to stump me, moving forward. It's a bit like MEMENTO and CARLITO'S WAY, in that you sort of know how it's going to end beforehand (see if you can spot the obvious homages to the latter film), but as things move along, I was genuinely surprised at some of the shtuff that went down. Which is always cool. It also didn't hurt that the soundtrack and visuals were slick, the lead actor was reflective and believable, and the ending, violent yet hopeful.

BTW, this is not just a "drug movie" about junkies who like to get high. It's the story of a man and his internal struggles actualized, after the death of his wife. It doesn't knock you over the head at first, but if you stick around long enough, I'm sure that you too will enjoy some of its more interesting and stylish revelations. Also, the less you know about it, the better...so stop reading this review and go check it out. Now...where can I gets me one of those crazy-ass SALTON SEA back tattoos??
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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