Ageological anomaly in Southern California signifies psychic deadness in The Salton Sea, a busy, brutal study in the dangerous, unhinged underworld of crystal methamphetamine doers and brewers. Meth – or ”gack,” as users call it – makes a man twitchy and just as liable to shoot as say hello. But in playing a tweaker, Val Kilmer seems especially refreshed as a loner sunk deep below a psychic sea level of his own: He slithers in and out of identities – as a junkie, a snitch, a jazz musician, a husband avenging the death of his wife – and the slipperiness suits the actor’s talent for suggesting that beneath the man we see is another we’ll never know.
What we see in ”The Salton Sea,” meanwhile, is a twisty, showy, atmosphere-saturated drama that revels (in a post-post-Tarantino-and-”Trainspotting” way) in sadism and in-your-face seediness – and attracts a cast of coolios primed to play extreme. Anthony La Paglia, Deborah Kara Unger, and ”Boys Don’t Cry”’s Peter Sarsgaard are among those jazzed by Tony Gayton’s screenplay (he also wrote the more formulaic ”Murder by Numbers”) and D.J. Caruso’s directorial devil-dogging. And Vincent D’Onofrio goes positively gaga as a monstrous, noseless meth boss who practically dares viewers to watch him. Turn away disgusted, he taunts, and you’re a wuss, afraid to swim at ”Sea” level.