4 June 2003 | Latheman-9
The Salton Sea is a hypersaline artificial body of water accidentally created when engineers lost control of the Colorado River flow with which they were replenishing irrigation canals in California's Imperial Valley. For two years (1905-1907), the Colorado River was uncontrollably diverted from its natural course, filling the Salton Trough (part of the San Andreas Fault) before finally being set back on course. Since then, the Salton Sea continues to be replenished by irrigation runoff with no means of outflow except evaporation. It lies approximately 130 miles northeast of San Diego at the lowest point of the Sonoran Desert (278 feet below sea level). In that part of the world, the temperatures in summer, effectively April through November, can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, or even higher. In recent years, it has experienced massive fish and bird kills. In short, the Salton Sea is an apt metaphor for Hell ... which is just where Danny Parker/Tom Van Allen (Val Kilmer) finds himself at the beginning of this film, surrounded by flames. "The Salton Sea" is a highly stylized movie in which nearly all elements are executed well. The acting is generally excellent. Kilmer in the lead role does his best work since "Tombstone", and Vincent D'Onofrio, an actor for whom I don't ordinarily care, is utterly convincing as the demented crank dealer Pooh Bear. He was so good I forgot I was watching D'Onofrio. Excellent supporting performances are contributed by Peter Sarsgaard as Danny/Tom's best friend, Doug Hutchison and Anthony LaPaglia as the two L.A. County Sheriff's deputies for whom Danny snitches, and Adam Goldberg as tweaker-in-residence Kujo. Even the minor characters of Creeper (Ricky Trammell), Big Bill (Josh Todd), and the gun seller (Mpho Koaho) are portrayed to perfection. My only complaint is that Deborah Kara Unger simply wasn't able to pull off her part as the strung-out lowlife Colette, perhaps because she's just too beautiful to be convincing in such a role. As an anti-parallel, imagine Danny Trejo cast as James Bond.
Cinematography and editing were top notch, and the production design for this film was fantastic, from the diseased walls of Danny/Tom's apartment to the Level 4 biohazard lab in the 'Kujo's Big Heist' segment, with technicians wearing space suits that look like they came directly from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey". Even the smallest details were done with style, such as the flames cascading down Danny/Tom's arm from the sunburst tattoo centered on the scar of his shoulder wound. The intricate plot of Tony Gayton's script requires the viewer's suspension of disbelief at some points, but not enough to detract significantly from the overall merit of the movie. This is a very strong feature film debut for director D.J. Caruso, and I look forward to his future work. One of the best films I've seen in the last three years, "The Salton Sea" is definitely worth watching. Rating: 8/10