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    The Salton Sea

    2002, R, 103 minutes

    By Jay Tierney...

    The Salton Sea is one of those understated little films that will never really receive the attention it deserves, even though it stars a big name actor and has a fairly engaging plot that involves murder, revenge, and deception, set against a bizarre underworld of methanphetomines.

    Val Kilmer plays a single character who embodies two men in one. They both have different names, professions, hobbies, and even personalities, and the only thing that divides them is a dramatic and traumatizing event - the murder of his wife. His loss essentially ruins his life, transforming a successful, trumpet-playing musician - the type who prefers to perform in a three-piece suit - into a tattoo-covered meth freak or "tweaker" who is constantly being harassed by the police. The division of a single man is fascinating, partly because of Kilmer's wonderful performance and partly because his fall is both the result of depression as well as obsession for revenge - one serving as a convenience for the other. What makes the character misleading is how we perceive what he is feeling inside; he may appear to be so beaten down by his lot in life that he's given up hope, but in reality he is merely making sacrifices as a means to an end.

    While The Salton Sea would have still been interesting had it been told in chronological order, what makes it truly engaging is how we are exposed to bits and pieces of the past throughout the story, gradually shedding light on the present situation and characters. As a result we never really come to understand Kilmer's character until towards the very end, and the technique proves to be quite effective. He begins as a blank page and slowly the mystery is revealed. Is he aimlessly hoping for revenge, or is his involvement with a scary, nose-less drug dealer (Vincent D'Onofrio) somehow going to give his life purpose?

    Overall, The Salton Sea may not be a great film so much as it is a challenging one, but it's certainly unique and does an excellent job of forcing the viewer to question everything he or she watches. The way flashbacks are used to make sense out of the present is a fine example of solid storytelling, and even though we can't fully understand our hero until the conclusion, we care deeply about him from the very beginning and that's really all that matters.

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    Information & Credits

    Directed by: D.J. Caruso
    Written by: Tony Gayton
    Starring: Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Goldberg, Luis Guzmán, Doug Hutchison, Anthony LaPaglia, Glenn Plummer, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Unger, Chandra West, B.D. Wong, R. Lee Ermey

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