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SALT AND FIRE (director/writer: Werner Herzog; screenwriter: short story by Tom Bissell; cinematographer: Peter Zeitlinger; editor: Joe Bini; music: Ernst Reijseger ; cast: Michael Shannon (Matt Riley), Veronica Ferres (Laura Somerfeld), Gael García Bernal (Dr. Fabio Cavani), Volker Zack Michalowski (Prof. Maier), Lawrence Krauss(Krauss); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Nina Maag/Werner Herzog/Michael Benaroya/Pablo Cruz; Construction Film; 2016-France/Bolivia/USA/Germany/Mexico-in English, with some German, Quechun and Spanish)
A tedious and ludicrous eco-thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A tedious and ludicrous eco-thriller written and directed by Werner Herzog(“Aguirre, the Wrath of God”/”Queen of the Desert”). It relates to mankind’s negative impact on the earth. The film is based on the short story by Tom Bissell. This is the least appealing film from Herzog. It’s filled with trite dialogue, ponderous scenes and pointless actions.

A U.N. scientific delegation consisting of the aggressive lead ecologist Professor Laura Somerfield (Veronica Ferres, German actress), the scummy Dr. Cavani (Gael García Bernal) and the tagalong Professor Maier (Volker Zack Michalowsk) are abducted by a menacing armed black-masked paramilitary SWAT team at the airport of an undisclosed South American country (though it seems to be Bolivia). At the kidnapper’s retreat we learn they were taken hostage by Matt Riley (Michael Shannon), the CEO industrialist of the international company known as the “Consortium.” His company created the environment catastrophe that could not only destroy an entire country but the whole world. The eco-disaster was caused by the company’s chemical wastes that have artificially dried up a lake and the expanding salt flats are now called “El Diablo Blanco.” That’s the place the scientists came here to investigate.

We also learn that the volcanoUturunku may be on the verge of exploding and if that happens it will probably destroy the world because of its fires. So we are in imminent danger of the Earth being destroyed by salt and fire, which anyway explains the title.

The second part of the film features Laura stranded at the vast Uyuni salt flats on a rising cactus island in the company of two small blind brothers from Bolivia (supposedly blinded by fumes emanating from the flats), with enough water and supplies for a week.

Laura’s colleagues are kept back with diarrhea, and thereby are not as lucky as the viewers to see where all this is going in the final reveal.

Anyway, the breathless spectacle can take your mind off the dull narrative.

Lawrence Krauss (real-life Arizona State scientist) is in a campy supporting role as a sometimes wheelchair-bound brainy henchman to Riley, who can’t act a lick but gives the best performance here because it’s so artlessly bad.

As fiction this film makes no sense. Herzog would have spared us from this disaster if he just made a documentary and made it clear what he was trying to say.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”