The style of Herzog seems to marry well with the weirdness of Michael Shannon who plays Matt Riley, a CEO of a company responsible for irreversible eco changes in a fictional South American country. Salt and Fire sees scientists Laura (Veronica Ferres), Fabio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Krauss (Lawrence Krauss) on a mission to study an eco-disaster and report back to the world with their findings. For these characters it doesn’t quite pan out as such as Matt Riley and his small, borderline courteous, militia hold them captive.
From the offset there is an element of hi-jinks when the group are first confronted by their assailants, with Fabio fleeing to a stall in the gents followed by two men wielding automatic weapons that almost seem too big to look menacing. The wry moment where we see one of the captors seemingly wheelchair bound miraculously walk again is where Salt and Fire gathers momentum. It is no doubt an unusual mix of tone against the kidnap element of the story by men who superficially look like terrorists with ski masks and all.
Ferres is the standout as fiery Laura who unwillingly submits to her captors. This is where the thriller element very much stops and focus shifts to that of the relationship between Riley and Laura.
The interactions between the two at first are unpredictable with an unhinged Shannon demanding a level of decorum from his victim. Not shy to embrace the unconventional traits of many of his characters, it is why Michael Shannon is as revered as he is. It is a performance that is easily the highlight and saving grace of Salt and Fire but fails to redeem it completely.
In one crucial sequence we see Laura abandoned in the middle nowhere with the added twist of the burden of caring of two young brothers and it begins the slow transition into tedium for Salt and Fire. It is a bizarre mirroring to that of SAW protagonist John Kramer (Kramer) albeit without the flailing limbs, who infamously tries to enlighten his victims into seeking redemption at any cost.
This ultimately is where the film suffers as the pace shifts where Ferres takes centre stage as Laura fights to survive whilst caring for these two brothers. There are sweet moments between the trio but it is simply not enough to carry the second act which quickly becomes tedious. Despite being stranded you don’t really get a sense that the character and two boys are in mortal danger as suggested. Even with the re-introduction of Michael Shannon who returns to save Laura and then play out a jovial photo-taking sequence with object optic illusions it doesn’t quite recover from the doldrums of its second act.
Salt and Fire attempts to take viewers on a journey and initially has success with its moments of fun coupled with intrigue but fizzles away and there simply isn’t enough depth or investment in the characters to stay with it.