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The Salton Sea More at IMDbPro »

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Tethered, eventually it can only go so far

Author: chaos-rampant from Greece
3 May 2016

This opens like in a film noir, with a narrator in his last moments musing on who he really is, the house around him is on fire and he's playing the trumpet. We swoop into him to find where it all went awry and he lost himself.

Promising for a while, so long as we have no safe footing in solid reality and instead free fall through selves, acquiring narrative fabrics in our fall through stories. We see a drug addict, tattooed and blitzed out of his mind. A police informant. A trumpet player. An unhappy man who comes back to the same seedy apartment.

I don't mind that we have the snappy cadence of Snatch or Goodfellas here and there and quirky bad guys. This really could have been something if we were left to soak up edges of shifting self and story - hallucinated by the druggie? remembered? an informant's remorse? - as we made our way to a remote cabin for a drug deal that may have been orchestrated as part of one or more of these lives.

They didn't allow us to float here. Eventually it becomes like Memento, where after a few surprises we settle on a real story, we get a flashback that explains. It becomes mechanical, a case of coming up with what happened, so when in the end, it tries to wonder about who really is this man, and what of all this was true, it comes across as an unimaginative guy musing about the wonders of imagination. The whole point is that even the formerly happy life that was snatched from him should float like all the others, perhaps a self that he comes back to to make his way through the rest. Lynch would know just how, Ruiz.

A more imaginative mind here would have also made use of Kilmer's presence as formerly happy guy who has bottomed out and now inhabits a limbo where acting selves struggle within anxious stories to get out of them. But that would require the same untethered shifting.

Noir Meter: 2/4 | Neo-noir or post noir? Post

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Truly unique, utterly stylish black diamond gem of a noir film

Author: NateWatchesCoolMovies from Canada
22 July 2015

D.J. Caruso's The Salton Sea is like two great films for the price of one. On one hand you have elements of a zany, off the wall meth addiction screwball comedy (not unlike Jonas Ackerlund's Spun, which I will be reviewing as well). Those comedic elements are wrapped in a very tragic, violent and vengeful film noir, with a brooding, paced melancholy that chills the heart. Val Kilmer stars as Danny Parker, a scumbag tweaker who snitches out fellow addicts to two corrupt narcs (Doug Hutchison and Anthony Lapaglia, equal parts hilarious and scary). But he's also Tom Van Allen, a stoic trumpet player who has been driven to this life of unending nocturnal madness through bloody and unfortunate circumstance. I won't say any more than that or I'll spoil the plot. Kilmer plays both sides of the coin willingly, and in a way is perfect for both aspects of this character, as he has always had a flair for both mournful gravitas (The Saint, Batman) and hyperactive lunacy (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Willow). Vincent D'Onofrio almost steals the film away from him though, playing a deranged crank dealer named Pooh Bear, who I quote "snorted so much gack they had to chop his nose off". He is a plastic nosed monster with a bleached blonde cut and a chilling nasally whine that produces nightmares. Vancouver born Deborah Kara Unger gives a restrained performance as Danny's down on her luck neighbour. The supporting cast rocks it, with appearances from Meat Loaf, Luis Guzman, R. Lee Ermey, Peter Saarsgard, Adam Goldberg, Glenn Plummer and Danny Trejo. I've heard people whine about this film being style over substance. Well, when you have a style this distinct, a score this good, a color palette this gorgeous, so what if the visual and auditory aesthetic takes over a bit? It still has enough exposition and character motivation to surge forward with purpose. A very underrated, delightfully off kilter late 90's noir entry well worth watching.

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Gets put together really well

Author: KineticSeoul from United States
19 February 2011

I saw a poster to this movie a long time ago and found it sort of interesting but never seen the trailer in theaters although I tend to go to the movies a lot back than. Especially with it's tagline, which didn't help get a understanding of what this movie is about. But from the beginning scene it clearly shows this movie is about tweekers. And is mainly focused on one tweeker Danny Parker/Tom Van Allen(Val Kilmer) who has a double lifestyle. I was actually quite shocked with the direction this movie went since I thought it would be a very serious movie, but the cinematography didn't seem all that serious. In fact this movie has some comedic elements in it. Besides the unexpected direction and besides the movie being all over the place at times, it does get put together a bit later on. And after it was finished I actually liked this movie, not a great film like some people claim it to be but I still liked it, especially the style of this, well sort of. And especially how the plot comes together and how it all fits together. Val Kilmer did a good job of playing the witty tweeker in this and his performance was enjoyable to watch. This is a unpredictable movie with some good elements in it that revolve around drugs and other stuff which I won't be giving away. I am glad I took the time to watch this film and it won't disappoint.


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anther under-appreciated movie !!!!!

Author: Enad-Farraj from Jordan
12 January 2011

I started using the IMDb recently, its quiet addictive really if your a movie fanatic, i used to check into rottentomatoes every time i wanted to know about a film, or the well respected wikipedia.

the great thing about this site that it always appreciate art & intelligence, rarely you find a high rating for a dumb movie. its very realistic & honest, but as we all know all things have buts, whats bothering me is seeing a wonderfully astonishing piece of art not being appreciated enough.

the rating 7,1 is not very encouraging to be honest, specially when u have all of those above 7,5. THIS MOVIE SHOULD BE 8,3 or something. the script & dialogue is pure genius, Val Kilmer gets sucked by his character, you could swear hes not Val, amazing performance by all actors indeed, except for 2, watch it and see if you could figure them out ;) go watch it guys, you wont regret it.

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Set sail with Val Kilmer on a sea of drugs.

Author: Samiam3 from Canada
8 June 2010

The drug world is a crazy one: a world of strait and dirty, bullets and blood shed, secrecy and surveillance, and sometimes life or death. If you were one of the few people to follow David Simon's the Wire on Cable TV, you'll get the idea completely. The Saltan Sea, though occasionally flirting close too close to the line of staged plotting, feels surprisingly convincing, and down to earth. Though I wouldn't call it a super smart motion picture, it does have a brain, with brain cells that fire off signals to progress the story in a manner that is engaging.

Tom Van Allen and his lovely wife were on holiday by the Salton Sea, when one night a couple of guys in masks shot her dead in the hotel lobby (along with the clerk). since then Tom, has taken up a new identity as a street punk. Having gotten himself arrested (deliberately) he has been doing buy and bust for the cops. Each bust gets progressively bigger, and his plan is ultimately to bust the one who killed his wife, something bigger and more ironic than the audience could anticipate.

First shots can be very important sometimes (I'm sure many of you have a favourite example). The Salton Sea opens on a man sitting on the floor of a room which is burning all around him, while he casually plays the trumpet. Next, we hear his narrative voice, "Who am I.......I'll let you decide" before the story flashes back quite a ways. If this is not enough to get you into the story (even the slightest bit), I dunno what is.

The Salton Sea does its job well. It is still shy of greatness, but I'd say it is worth a peak.

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Kilmer's Finest Hour

Author: luke5119 from United States
26 April 2010

I've watched a number of Val Kilmer movies over the years and this is by far Val's best performance. While Val has always been more of a supporting actor, he really shines as the main character Danny Parker/Tom Van Allen in The Salton Sea. The plot is great and the acting is solid all around. The serious dramatic nature works well with the splash of dark humor throughout the film. It's sad to see The Salton Sea not get the notoriety it deserves. Coming from someone who has seen A LOT of movies, this is in my top 50 for sure. Val really shows he's more than the hunk from Top Gun, the crazed college kid from Real Genius, and even the gambling junkie/pro thief from Heat. Val outdoes even his performance as Jim Morrison in The Doors(1991).

So, give this film a look and let yourself slip into the underground life of the perpetual night party. And get a taste of the life of Danny Parker. A tweaker with nothing to lose and a life he'll never get back.

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not altogether cohesive or dazzling, but when it smokes there's fire

Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
26 April 2010

The writer of The Salton Sea, Tony Gayton, said that he didn't intend for his script to be made into the film, but wrote it out as an experiment, a piece that he could show off to Hollywood execs so that he could get other writing jobs (this is actually a much more common occurrence in getting writing jobs than you'd think). When the studio decided to make the script into a film, I wonder now seeing the film if its director DJ Caruso intended the same as his writer when he was making it. This is a film for a select bunch of viewers, and perhaps not even them at all.

Who is the audience for The Salton Sea? Most likely that cultish group of movie-goers that loves trippy drug movies with black humor (its visual style screams out at times LOOK AT ME, with a musical track that accompanies it). But it's also got a story like a film-noir, or even that of a crime story off of nighttime network TV, where a guy goes undercover... and is going undercover even deeper again for another organization, all in the memory of his late wife. It's this clash that makes Salton Sea captivating, and also, at times, not very likable as a movie. It looks like it's cribbed from other movies, better ones (Trainspotting as one example, The Kind of New York as another), and morphed into its own thing.

For the gaps in logic that the film has, and it definitely has a few (for one thing, when it's revealed how Kilmer's wife really died, it's kind of stupid why they were even where they were in the first place - and also, later on in the film, what the twisted relationship is between Kilmer and the cops he rats to on his life in the meth game), the film entertains and engages with its bizarre humor and even some of its predictable noirish elements (for example Deborah Kara Unger's subplot with the abusive husband). Caruso wants this to be a dark film with some surreal touches- something he makes us aware of in the first scene as trumpet player Daniel Parker (or is it Tommy Van Allen) plays on in the midst of a fire around him- and as long as he doesn't let things slip too far into the expected, it fares well.

Supporting actors help out a great deal in ensembles, and it's here that an actor like Vincent D'Onofrio can go to town. He plays the no-nosed drug dealer Pooh-bear (named after poor Winnie sticking his nose into too much honey), and is so bonkers as he tries to outdo anything in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. Arguably, he goes too far with it, especially with his character's penchant for having an actual badger eating a man's genitals. But it works as a crazy buffer in the midst of other plot lines that take themselves almost too seriously (the undercover plot) or not really at all (the Meth buddies plot to steal Bob Hope's stool, which is meant to played for laughs but felt kind of stale ala Tarantino). Others who stand out include Stellan Sarsgaard as Kilmer's Meth-buddie, and BD Wong who for most of the film plays a character so unlike we've seen him play on Oz or Law & Order.

And as for Kilmer... he does alright. Nothing really great or audacious (he doesn't shoot for the moon like Jim Morrison) and nothing to be ashamed of. His narration either is very good or poor, usually based on the script. His mournful look resonates at first, but he does better at playing stoned in front of the cops or trying to stay on edge like in front of the bugged-out dealer with the woman trapped under his bed. And as more quirky and comic-book characters and twists come out of the woodwork, he holds his own and makes the film watchable, if not too demanding of the viewer.

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Danny Parker's dark quest - brilliant

Author: iljones from Sin-John's Newfoundland
22 February 2010

Well-crafted and dark - exploring the subjects of lost love, grief, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug addiction and attempts at redemption. Violent, disturbing, funny, mostly 'over- the-top', and oddly Romantic, this film is not for everyone, but should appeal to those interested in film-noir and action pictures. The dystopia of southern California drug culture is portrayed in a chaotic series of vignettes sprinkled though the screenplay, in a form more associated with an indie film than a mainstream Hollywood production. For me the film manages to be entertaining and engrossing while at the same time being focused on criminals and individuals experiencing depression and hopelessness. The importance of the film's reference to the ecological nightmare of the actual Salton Sea, a toxic man-made lake, is missed by most critics, but is the central metaphor. Val Kilmer gives one of his best performances, capturing the persona of a distraught and devastated individual struggling to go on by developing a character with considerable depth. Supporting cast members Vincent D'Onofrio, Luis Guzman, Anthony Lapaglia and Peter Saarsgard are all brilliant, and Chandra West well-cast as Tom Van Allen's beautiful and fragile ghost.

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Salty Sea

Author: the_weirdo from India
8 January 2010

It's a pretty decent thriller.

Enough twists and curves to keep you guessing till the end. Not bad performances. Val Kilmer is as good (or as bad) as he is in other movies. He plays the bereaved husband whose wife has been killed in a robbery fiasco and now he is vindictive towards the perpetrators. Vincent D'Onofrio as the eccentric drug dealer and Doug Hutchison (remember the negative guy in the Green Mile?) as the corrupt cop are fear-and-loathe-some.

Good for a one-time-watch.

(Originally posted @

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Life on Meth

Author: Rindiana from Germany
26 December 2009

Unexpectedly captivating crime yarn despite excessively inconsistent plotting, some narrative flaws and existential pretensions. It's a demented fun ride, though.

The loopy story is filled with both mordantly funny and violent scenes and has a hallucinogenic quality to it that befits its dark central issue perfectly. And some moments are simply hilarious, such as a re-staging of the JFK assassination, complete with toy cars and pigeon stand-ins.

It's all quite a hodgepodge, but enjoyably so.

6 out of 10 rabid badgers

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