Review: “The Salton Sea”

With countless betrayals, twisted narrative and shady characters of varying criminal intent, there’s quite a few elements to like about the new Val Kilmer crime noir drama but on the whole it sadly drowns in its own sense of self-importance.

Director D.J. Caruso and company seem desperately trying to go for an award winner here with artistic visuals, strong character performances and a serious tone throughout. Yet a not so quiet sense of desperation plagues the movie, the filmmakers know this is not exactly a marketable product and will never reach a wide audience but sadly they never take up that challenge of doing risky material – instead resorting to drug/crime movie conventions of shootouts, over-the-top narcotics dealers, corrupt cops and more.

The complicated action gradually reveals the various twisted motives of the characters in some clever ways, but the constant narration by Kilmer does feel like an attempt to help audiences through the convoluted maze of the story which sadly in the end isn’t particularly compelling anyway. In many ways this resembles “Memento” – a very B grade story of revenge for a dead wife told through a complex structure to mask the inherit lack of story. With “Memento” though it worked thanks to not only fine performances but clever use of its reverse structure. ‘Salton’ makes no such trick use and the plot is even less substantial.

Performances do carry the movie though with Kilmer delivering his usual trademark ‘very much into the role’ style, D’Onfrio as the artificially-nosed ‘Pooh Bear’ delivers the right amount of dark menace and eccentricity required whilst Luis Guzman and Deborah Kara Unger do well with relatively flat roles as neighbours of Kilmer. The great LaPaglia and Hutchinson are both wasted as Narcotics Officers though.

This a film full of rich filmmaking style and appeal but pulled together as a cohesive story it never really works. There’s loads of little vignettes with different people in different places which combined with the drug topic come off as something out of “Wild at Heart” and makes just as little sense. There’s definite moments to enjoy in ‘Salton’ but it never gels and is too pretentious for its own good.