Movie Review: The Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is a thriller about a meth addict (Val Kilmer) who’s working with the cops as a rat. He’s got a troubled past that puts him in an apparently no-win situation between the cops and the dealers. His wife was murdered and it appears that he’s trying to get revenge somehow, but has gotten lost along the way. It’s a very tense movie, and very well done.

It opens with Kilmer sitting in a room that’s on fire, playing his trumpet. This is maybe the weakest point of the movie. It’s just a little too artsy. Starting the movie right at the end of the movie, so we see where all of this is heading, is overdone, I think. It’s self-referential in an annoying Tarantino kind of way. Also, there’s voice-over narration which is supposed to automatically qualify it as Low Art, but I’m not sure I buy that. Anyway, the narration is really well done, so it doesn’t intrude like it can sometimes.

The movie has an awful lot to do with drugs, and so some might not want to see it for that reason. If one is opposed to drug use, though, this is the movie for you. What it does to all of the people involved is graphically depicted. Literally, graphically depicted, in one case. There’s a particularly memorable character called Pooh Bear, who’s a meth cook and a dealer who is called Pooh Bear because he got “his nose stuck in the honey jar”. He snorted so much that he had to have his nose amputated. Pooh Bear is played by Vincent D’Onofrio in a fantastic performance. Pooh Bear is vicious and crazy in a humorous sort of way. He seems to behave almost at random, but a wily pattern emerges that makes him just that much scarier. The rest of the drug-using characters range from humorously stupid to totally dysfunctional. This movie definitely did NOT make me want to go snort gakk, and it reminded me a great deal of the actual drug users I used to know.

There’s a lot of swearing in this movie. Some people don’t like to watch a movie with a lot of swearing because it offends them, which I can appreciate. Sometimes the language of movies is just gratuitous, just there to offend, and we hardly need more offense in our media choices these days. I can go on record saying that most the folks I knew in the drug culture certainly do talk that way, though, so it’s not inaccurate.

There’s also a lot of violence in this movie. It wasn’t gratuitous, though. There were no artistic shots of blood gushing out of people, or people getting body parts cut off or anything like that- slo-mo’s of bullets shattering people’s faces. Most of the violence was more by suggestion and threat than it was graphically depicted, which I appreciate.

So, I’m recommending it. It’s not for the faint of heart, definitely, but the acting, writing, directing and shooting of the movie were all excellent, and there was certainly no glorification of sin. The end message was a little on the existentialist side, but I’m not one to say a Christian shouldn’t see anything he disagrees with. We’d be about limited to Veggie Tales, these days. The mature Christian will not be tossed to and fro by every thing that comes along.

4 out of 5 stars.

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