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Film / The Salton Sea

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The Salton Sea is a 2002 neo-noir crime film directed by D. J. Caruso, starring Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio and Peter Sarsgaard.

It follows the story of Danny Parker (Kilmer), a former trumpet player and speed freak (amphetamine addict) who works as an informant for two seedy undercover cops. But he moves away from the small time drug scene, and becomes involved with the sadistic drug dealer Pooh-Bear (D'Onofrio).

The film was received reasonably well and showed that Val Kilmer still "had it" when it comes to acting; however, it's also a film that is still mostly under the radar of the average movie-goer.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Title
  • Arms Dealer: A particularly quirky gun seller who has an unusual style of speaking and doesn't seem to blink. He re-appears later in Danny's imagination in a crucial moment of trying to remember whether the revolver he bought can hold eight or nine rounds
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Bobby the dealer is incoherent and rambling, and threatens Danny and his friend Jimmy with a spear gun. But he's somewhat ineffectual due to being "high on his own supply".
    • Pooh-Bear on the other hand is both crazy and incredibly dangerous. The first scene we see with Pooh-Bear is him and his buddies recreating the JFK assassination with pigeons in a remote controlled car. This definitely drives the point home.
  • Book Dumb: Jimmy is this, particularly when he asks Danny who John F. Kennedy is and whether he was assassinated or not. Most of the junkies Danny hangs out with seem to be this also.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Danny speaks directly to the viewer multiple times throughout the movie.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Danny is shot by Pooh-Bear multiple times towards the end of the film. We see him being completely still and face down on the ground, surrounded by the blood of other bodies. We then see him coughing and in pain, but ultimately unharmed.
  • Death Seeker: Danny is this at some points. Particularly when he talks of how he should have died with his wife and at the end where he says 'it doesn't matter' when the villain is ready to shoot him, AND when he almost prepares to shoot himself
  • Drugs Are Bad: Whilst it's not really the point of the film, it shows the crowd that Danny hangs out with as being unintelligent and pitiful. Danny's own use of drugs As a way of dealing with his wife's death seems have sent him into a downward spiral.
  • Facial Horror: Pooh-bear's nose, or lack thereof
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Sort of. Danny gives his neighbour some illegal drugs to plant in her apartment so she can call the cops on her boyfriend. The boyfriend is only guilty of being abusive and holding her daughter captive. Planting the evidence doesn't work out.
  • Gag Nose: We are told the character Pooh-Bear had to have his nose cut off from snorting too many drugs. You get to see how he looks without his nose briefly before he puts his skin-colored prosthetic one back on.
  • Honey Trap: A much lighter version, but Danny's next door neighbour, whom he almost becomes intimate with, actually sets him up because her boyfriend has her daughter held hostage.
  • Imagine Spot
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Pooh-Bear pushes Danny to try some food that he has prepared. He then tells a story of how he kept the brains of someone who tried to steal money from him and that he's being adding it to most of his meals. Cue Danny looking at disgust at the food he's just eaten. Turns out he was just joking though.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Pooh-Bear uses a unique one on Danny Parker in which he forces him to bring his member near an angry badger stuck in a cage at gun point
  • Redneck: Pooh-Bear and any of his friends or henchmen that you get to see.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Very much on the gritty side, with a focus on urban streets during the night.
  • Split Personality: Not so much the mental illness variety, but between his old life as a trumpet player happily in love with his wife and his new life in the dark world of illegal drugs and being an informant for the police. At the start of the film, Danny even asks the viewer to make up his or her mind which one the protagonist is. At the end, he decides that both of those lives are dead, and a new life can be started.
  • Survivor Guilt: Danny talks briefly about feeling guilty when he is shot and his wife is killed in front of him.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: There is quite a bit of this between Danny and his neighbour, that almost gets resolved in one scene.
  • Zany Scheme: Some of Danny's friend talk about stealing Bob Hope's stool specimen, and then to sell it. We are briefly shown a look of how wrong it could go.