The Salton Sea (2002)

Genres - Crime, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Post-Noir (Modern Noir), Crime Thriller  |   Release Date - Apr 26, 2002 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 103 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Karl Williams

A one-time producer for John Badham, director D.J. Caruso scores a significant artistic success (if not, unfortunately, a financial hit) with this taut psychological thriller that strikes a fascinatingly mournful tone and features the best performance from erratic star Val Kilmer in years. Much of what is so compelling and effective about the film can be chalked up to a superb script from writer Tony Gayton that mixes elements of the noir genre with the fiendishly absurd sensibilities and violent underworld characters of Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle. But credit is due to the director and star. Caruso gets things off to a zippy, attention-grabbing flourish of a kick start with a rapid-cut, quasi-documentary on the history of methamphetamine and its users or "tweakers," while Kilmer impresses with a performance that begins as wan and spaced-out, but is gradually revealed, layer by layer, to be far more cunningly intelligent and manipulative than one initially expects. It's a performance of nuance and grace, with the often too-eccentric actor nailing a deft bull's eye. Well-chosen supporting players are uniformly strong, with Vincent D'Onofrio a flashy standout as a drug dealer missing a nose along with quite a few marbles. It all comes back to that script from Gayton, however, one that takes the audience on an emotional roller-coaster ride as the story manages to shift seamlessly into a completely different mode with each act turn, ultimately transforming from a painfully funny drug satire into a heart-wrenching tragedy of violent revenge. Gayton is a crime screenwriter to watch, quite literally.