starring Veronica Ferres, Michael Shannon, Gael Garcia Bernal, Volker Zack Michalowski
written by Werner Herzog, based on the story "Aral" by Tom Bissell
directed by Werner Herzog
by Walter Chaw There's an early moment in Werner Herzog's misbegotten Salt and Fire where three scientists wander through an abandoned terminal in a Bolivian airport, scored by a cacophonous, disturbing Ernst Reijseger composition, that finds Herzog on comfortable, familiar ground. His films are at their best when they combine this kind of displacing, disquieting music against scenes of the mundane. Later, as his DP Peter Zeitlinger pans across the flaking spines of an ancient book collection, and again when Zeitlinger takes in the staggering scope of Bolivia's Uyuni Salt Flat, Herzog finds his rhythm as chronicler of unknowable mysteries and philosopher of intimations of immortality. The film would have been better without dialogue. A scene right around the mid-point where scientist Laura (Veronica Ferres) and mad industrialist Matt Riley (Michael Shannon) have a conversation about children in front of a crackling fire would have been transcendent silent. The planes of Shannon's and Ferres's faces, lit by flickers of orange, are suggestive of extraordinary depths and tensions. When they're forced to say things like "the tragedy is when men are afraid of the light," it tends to make it all gravid and unintentionally hilarious. When Michael Shannon is incapable of landing a weird line, imagine how the others fare.