Oh, great! Now Judge Daryl Loomis has to worry about somebody getting him a glass of water.
Forty teaspoons of salt will kill a grown man.
Forty tablespoons is a lot of salt. It seems like it would be hard to trick somebody into drinking really salty water but luckily, in Bradford Tatum's Salt: A Fatal Attraction, it is set up that the victim loses his sense of smell. Tatum seems to have missed the fact, however, that saltiness is a sense of the tongue and has nothing to do with smell. Inconsistencies like this may be convenient for the story, but they are the things that turn Tatum's ambitious thriller into an overcooked mess.
Facts of the Case
Phoebe (Alexandra Wilson, Beverly Hills 90210) has taken abuse from Rand (Tatum), her art gallery-owning bastard of a husband, for longer than she can stand. Over the years, however, the damage has taken its toll, leaving her emotionally stunted and unable to act on her own. One day, out of the blue, Rand's estranged sister, West (Stacy Haiduk, Luther the Geek), shows up to see how her brother's doing. When she sees how he treats his wife, though, she conspires with Phoebe to play a little prank: they'll make him sick with salt. The joke starts to spin out of control and, as Rand get sicker and sicker, secrets emerge that make Phoebe question her motives.
In an attempt to make his low budget high minded, Tatum added so much extra spice to Salt the taste of his core idea is totally obscured. Like Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques, the setup of two disaffected women against one evil man is tasty and works pretty well in the first two acts. Unfortunately, unlike Clouzot's classic, Tatum can't end the film in any kind of sensible or satisfactory way. His effort to twist the plot—the undoing of so many modern thrillers—pulls apart everything viewers were made to believe for no good reason, making me wonder why I ever cared in the first place.
There are few subjects more uncomfortable for me than domestic violence, in life or in film. Here, the subject is only intimated and never made explicit, but it's still very hard to watch. It does serve the story, allowing us to immediately sympathize with Phoebe and hate Rand. Phoebe herself, however, gives us no reason to sympathize with her; only what is imparted onto her builds this. This is the biggest problem with Salt: we have no reason to care about anyone in the film. All three of the principle characters are without motivation, and the only thing the actors seem able to do is yell or cry. As a result, there's no weight to how the story pans out and, even if the twist made sense, I can't see that it would have had much impact. The prank somehow leads to a sexual relationship between wife and sister. Why? When West reveals her personal motive for revenge against Rand, it's a lurid story and I appreciate that, but they instantly lay down questions about whether it really happened. It wasn't necessary to further the plot, so what was the point?
For all the clunky non-sequiturs of the plot, there's an equal amount of frustrating dialogue. Again, in this attempt at high-mindedness, Tatum seems to have forgotten that the words the actors speak needs to serve the story in some way, not just to serve the filmmaker's artistic pretensions. The characters are impossibly eloquent and poetic, reciting these lines like they were written by Carl Sandburg. Though this kind of stylized dialog can work well in films, this kind of lurid thriller is not one of them.
Cinema Epoch's release of Salt: A Fatal Attraction looks and sounds about as good as it can be for a film of this level. The image is generally clear, but there are times when the colors, a muted palette anyway, look more washed out than others. It is a solid transfer, but the color problems mar it a little. The sound is somewhat worse, with a tinny stereo mix that has little to no dynamic range. The only substantial extra is an alternate ending. Thankfully, Tatum decided to go with the one on the disc because this one makes so much less sense and would have left me ready to throw the box through the wall. The ending present on the film isn't perfect by any stretch, but pales in comparison to the senselessness of what could have been.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though there are a lot of problems with the dialogue and performances, Tatum does know how to shoot a film. For a film shot on video with an obviously low budget, there is a lot of attention to detail in both the lighting and shot composition. Full of dreamy sequences and montages cut with subliminal images and setups like 40 spoons in a pattern with salt poured over them, the film is very nice to look at. Salt: A Fatal Attraction is probably worth a look for the visuals alone. Sadly, the skills he presents in these scenes make the story and acting that much more frustrating.
Tatum has a strong sense of visual style and I hope that he learns the effectiveness of a cohesive story without the crutch of a twist ending, but Salt: A Fatal Attraction is far too inconsistent to truly recommend.
Not guilty, but the court warns Tatum to remember that dialog and story are as important in a thriller as the visuals. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
• Alternate ending
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