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The Salton Sea review

The Salton Sea
18certificate 18
Running time: 103 minutes
Starring: Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard, Luis Guzman, Deborah Unger
Rating 8 out of 10
From the striking opening scene of Val Kilmer in a burning room calmly blowing a plaintive refrain on a trumpet, The Salton Sea commands your attention. Once you're hooked, the film never lets up as it takes you on an exhilarating and murky journey into the nocturnal world of slammers and tweakers. It is a world of corruption and crazies that spins out of control on its own distorted axis, and whose inhabitants are held down by the crippling gravitational force of drugs, in particular methamphetamine.

Trying to figure out his place amongst the chaos is one man: one man with a severe identity crisis. "Who am I?", he asks in breathy narration as he surveys the flames licking at his feet with a detached nonchalance, "Avenging angel? Judas Iscariot? Prodigal son? Loving husband? Trumpet player? Speed freak? You decide." What slowly unfolds is that he is all of the above, split between two distinct personas, both embodied by Kilmer. As Tom Van Allen he was the loving husband and trumpet player, but after witnessing his wife's murder he becomes Danny Parker, engulfing his depraved side as he embarks on his quest to hunt down his wife's killers.

Kilmer is mesmerising as the reflective and resolute Parker. As with his portrayal of Jim Morrison in The Doors, Kilmer appears contemplative and vaguely detached from reality, making only the occasional foray into the present. It's a performance ideally suited to the taciturn Parker who prefers to make a statement with his striking appearance which comprises black combat outfit, satanic jewelry and extensive tattoos including a bold image with the words "the Salton Sea" emblazoned across his back.

Despite being confused about his own identity, Parker is different from fellow twitchers Kujo (Adam Goldberg) and Jimmy The Finn (Peter Sarsgaard) and the other revellers in the "land of the perpetual night party." For them, the party is their life, but Parker is all but dead already and simply planning his resurrection.

Art director Douglas Cumming and cinematographer Amir M. Mokri have combined to stunning effect to realize screenwriter Tony Gayton's vision, creating a dreamscape mood that stylistically blends normality with the hallucinogenic haze of the addict.

Parker carries his old identity around in a suitcase, along with a photograph of his wife. He does it to remind him of who he was and why he now finds himself an amphetamine-fuelled informant for two renegade cops, Garcetti and Morgan (Anthony LaPaglia and Doug Hutchison), setting up a drug deal with the psychotic Pooh-Bear (a deliciously sinister Vincent D'Onofrio), who wears a plastic nose after his own was removed due to years of hoovering up drugs

The Salton Sea is an impressive debut feature for director D.J. Caruso. He successfully weaves together a blend of dark humour, touching romance and stark brutality that's not for the faint hearted or squeamish. The best way to experience the invigorating Salton Sea isn't to tentatively dip your toe, but to plunge straight in.

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