The Salton Sea 2002 Movie Scene Val Kilmer as Danny showing off his tattoos

The Salton Sea [2002]

Coming off as a bit pretentious because of its flashy imagery, The Salton Sea is a refreshing thriller about redemption, revenge, and justice. It starts off as your classic movie about drugs following a bunch of addicts. However, it soon starts to veer off in different directions. The storytelling is a bit disjointed and the same goes for the atmosphere. You simply cannot wrap your head around this thing. One moment it’s serious, the next moment it looks like a commercial, and the following moment it’s a quirky comedy. The movie opens with a scene where a man is playing trumpet in the middle of a fire with thousands of dollars burning in the background! However, the whole thing is very entertaining, to say the least.

We also have strong turn-of-the-century vibes. The over-the-top tattoos, flamboyant soundtrack, and just general framing of the scenes are all very nostalgic at this point. The Salton Sea borrows elements from both British and American drug and crime movies. It’s not exactly Trainspotting or Pulp Fiction and it doesn’t feel like a Guy Ritchie movie. So, what the fuck is it? It’s a quirky thriller taking you on a wild ride through the world populated by drug addicts and criminals. Out of them all, there’s one that’s quite memorable and that’s Pooh-Bear played masterfully by Vincent D’Onofrio.

In this, post Breaking Bad world, we judge quite harshly movies like The Salton Sea. Once you’ve witnessed perfection it’s hard to go back to just regular stuff. Luckily, we have a pretty potent main story here, you just have to a bit for its reveal. So, we actually get two or even three movies for the price of one. If you’re looking for something similar, I recommend you check out Spun. It features much more cohesive storytelling although it’s focused squarely on the whole addiction thing.

Meet Danny Parker, a drug addict who just ran out of meth after a four-day binge. He and his buddy Jimmy set off to find some more. And the cycle continues. However, you should know that there’s more to Danny than he lets on. First of all, he’s also a snitch, working with the police. Secondly, his name is actually not Danny and that’s just the beginning of his story…

I have to admit that I’ve known about The Salton Sea for a long time. And I also have to admit I’m not Val Kilmer’s biggest fan. His stone face and this mysterious, distant traveler vibe just rubbed me the wrong way. He was phenomenal in Doors, I’ll give him that. And did I mention that he narrates this whole thing? Oh yes, to make things seem even more pretentious and artsy. I think they were on to something while describing how addiction works and why it’s so hard to overcome it. The whole identity rant and how you find out who you are when you hit rock bottom is poetic, poignant and above all, true.

It’s best to think of The Salton Sea as an undercover cop movie although it isn’t. The big reveal comes in too late for it to make any kind of impact. Mostly because by then you’re already committed to watching this thing with a lot of the viewers giving up after the first half-hour. Although it feels disjointed and weird, this is definitely a movie worth watching.

Director: D.J. Caruso

Writer: Tony Gayton

Cast: Val Kilmer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Goldberg, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Kara Unger, Luis Guzmán

Fun Facts: Val Kilmer researched his role by spending time with drug abusers in Riverside and the greater Los Angeles area.


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