Review: Salt and Fire

Salt and Fire
5 10

PLOT: Three UN doctors investigating a man-made ecological disaster are kidnapped by the CEO (Michael Shannon) of the multi-national company responsible. He chooses one of the doctors (Veronica Ferres) to accompany him to a rapidly expanding salt flat harboring a nearby super volcano that, he believes, is ready to erupt and could be a world-ending event.

REVIEW: It’s a horrific thing when you wake up one day, at thirty-five, and discover that you know nothing about science. So poor was my knowledge of even the basics that I’ve spent the last year devouring science books in the hope of educating myself (with my recommendation being Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” as one of the most user-friendly science books out there). So I’d actually done a little reading on super volcanos and the like going in to SALT AND FIRE, and the opening act had me hoping this would be smart, scientifically-based thriller. Mixing science and entertainment is…let’s say difficult…but if anyone could do it Werner Herzog could, right?

Well, not so much it seems. While SALT AND FIRE is dazzlingly well shot, with stunning location photography in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni (shown on many a car ad), this falls somewhere between Herzog’s narrative and documentary work, making for an uneasy mix. He’s lucky that he’s got someone like Michael Shannon as one of the leads, but the typically Herzog-ian dialogue proves to be too much for most of the cast, who given leaden, melodramatic performances, specifically lead Veronica Ferres. This is no dig at her, she’s no doubt a good actress – no one would really be able to say some of the lines Herzog makes her say and sound convincing. Shannon manages, but only just, thanks mostly to his ferocious charisma.

The first half, focused on Shannon’s worry about the ecological disaster his company is responsible for, is the better part of the film. He’s presented as a complex anti-hero, being the CEO of what he calls “The Consortium”, which is run by a variety of countries, and which he seems to only be the mouthpiece for. Suddenly stricken by his conscience, his way of dealing with the problem involves kidnapping, but he can’t help but be likable – after all – he’s Michael Shannon!

Too bad then that his disappears for a good forty minutes, where SALT AND FIRE becomes a semi-doc, where Ferres character has to try and survive in the salt flats with two nearly blind local boys as her guides. There are some striking shots, and the payoff is unpredictable and oddly charming, but any momentum the film had achieved by this point goes into the toilet. Some of the plot is rather goofy too, such as Ferres suddenly having romantic feelings for Shannon, or the oddball casting of theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss as a gun-wielding, sometimes wheelchair using (only when he’s bored) version of himself. How strange – but then again – Herzog.

SALT AND FIRE is certainly the worst Herzog film I’ve ever seen, being the only one I could really call clumsy. Even still, there are things about it to enjoy, such as Shannon’s scenery chewing, the photography and the score by Ernst Reijseger. It’s not really good – but still interesting in a way.

Source: JoBlo.com



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