A review of  The Salton Sea” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for violence, drugs, sex, and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

 

 

This edgy drug drama nearly manages to be what “Blow” couldn’t – a perpetual night party that generates a sick fascination to the bitter end.

The talented Val Kilmer sheds his detached arrogance like a dead snakeskin and virtually slithers into the role Danny Parker, a diehard methadone freak (“tweaker”) who moonlights on the side as a narcotics snitch.  Consumed by the loneliness and alienation of a Dark Secret, Danny sees nothing to lose by hatching a risky plan to set himself up as the middle-man in a dangerous but lucrative drug deal. 

The deal goes down with the usual heightened drama, pitting Danny against the innocuously-named, but hyper-sadistic, Pooh-Bear (Vincent D’Onofrio). While Danny seems intent on self-destructing, he’s equally as vigilant to the emotional rescue of fellow tweaker Jimmy “The Finn” (Peter Sarsgaard) and his comely but vulnerable neighbor, Colette (Deborah Kara Unger).

Not surprisingly, Kilmer submerges himself into his role with a focused dedication masked by characteristic insouciance. It’s his best work in years. The emotional weight of informing coupled with the desperate sadness of a great loss colors the narrative with a palpable desperation that’s hard to ignore. 

This is a rare case of a good script and sound production values not quite segueing into an absorbing whole.  The performances are solid, but the characters are so richly realized that they lend the story an unappealing, over-the-top quality.  D’Onofrio is the chief culprit – preening, wheezing and hugely overplaying his psychotic, bad-ass pusher.  Unger gives her lost soul an anxious dignity, but the role is too small to have an impact. Intriguing short shifts by Anthony LaPaglia, Glenn Plummer, and B.D. Wong give the project A-list class, as does the cool cinematography and hip drug-culture patina.  Almost, but not quite.