Dir. D. J. Caruso, US, 2002, 103 mins
Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Goldberg, Luis Guzman, Meatloaf
Val Kilmer gives one of his best performances in years as a man with a shadowy past and an uncertain future in this brooding, unsettling tale of murder and revenge.
Kilmer plays Danny Parker, a trumpet player who changes his name and becomes a police informant in order to avenge the death of his wife. He spends his time in the seedy drug underworld of California, gathering information for the police. All the while he plots a way to destroy those who killed his wife.
The Salton Sea (the film takes its name from the place where Parker's wife was murdered) is grim viewing. There are few redeeming features for any of the characters penned by Tony Gayton (who also wrote Murder by Numbers) in his original screenplay while Amir Mokri's dark cinematography and Thomas Newman's pulsating original music contribute strongly towards the sinister feel of the entire piece.
Kilmer is very convincing, emerging slowly as a man with more to him than meets the eye. Parker's mystery is only revealed late in the film (director D.J. Caruso may have been better off giving us some insight into the main character earlier on) and the strength of Kilmer's portrayal is essential in making the story work. His wistful narration is also excellent.
Caruso has cast the various supporting characters well. There are effective turns by, amongst others, Anthony LaPaglia, Peter Sarsgaard and Deborah Unger. Vincent D'Onofrio, however, is horribly over the top as a disfigured drug chief.
The Salton Sea is certainly not for all tastes and offers an essentially familiar tale. However, so nightmarish is the setting and so powerful are some of the performances that it leaves a lasting impression.