Salt and Fire

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Salt and Fire Movie Poster Image
Herzog drama has worthy message, off-putting delivery.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 98 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Strong pro-environmental message; urges us to be more considerate of the world around us.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A businessman shows remorse for his careless treatment of the environment, but he goes about it in a strange, somewhat violent way. Other characters are too flat or abrasive to count as role models.

Violence

A woman is kidnapped, blindfolded, and handcuffed. Spoken reference to her scratching and biting. Guns shown. Struggling, fighting, hitting. General tension, yelling.

Sex

A man touches a woman's breast (on top of her clothing). Reference to a "buxom wench."

Language

A use of "f--k."

Consumerism

Lego blocks shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man orders a fourth glass of champagne. Social drinking on a plane.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Salt and Fire, a drama from director Werner Herzog, has a strong pro-environmental message. But it's such a strange, awkward misfire that it's unlikely that anyone who's not already pro-environment will get behind it. It also has moments of violence: A woman is kidnapped, blindfolded, and handcuffed. A struggle is shown, as are guns, and there's talk of scratching and biting. There's also general tension and yelling. A man flirts inappropriately with a woman, placing his hand on her breast, over her clothing. Language includes one use of "f--k," as well as a reference to a "buxom wench." Adult characters drink a bit too much while on an airplane, with no real consequences.

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What's the story?

In SALT AND FIRE, Professor Laura Somerfeld (Veronica Ferres), accompanied by two scientists (Gael Garcia Bernal and Volker Michalowski), have been dispatched to an unnamed South American country to investigate a potentially deadly environmental phenomenon. At the airport, they're met by mysterious men and subsequently kidnapped. One of the kidnappers reveals himself to be Matt Riley (Michael Shannon), the CEO of a company that likely caused the problem: an ever-expanding salt flat that's taken the place of a water source. Riley drives Laura out on the flats, reaching an island in the middle of a vast sea of white salt, and, unexpectedly, leaves her there. Even more unexpectedly, two blind boys have also been left behind. There's food, water, and shelter, but how long can they survive, and what is Riley's ultimate plan?

Is it any good?

Usually a director of fascinating films and documentaries about humans clashing with their environments, director Werner Herzog delivers a misfire with this puzzling, uncentered drama. Clearly, Salt and Fire is meant as a kind of parable, with its story intended to represent certain themes, but those themes end up overpowering any kind of emotion or character, and the act of watching the movie becomes more like listening to an awkward sermon, delivered in odd, stiff dialogue.

Perhaps if the movie had been set in some kind of alternate or sci-fi universe, it might have helped the material go down more easily. And it does have some striking imagery. But, as it is, set in reality, the extremely peculiar, off-putting behaviors and actions -- such as a man riding in a wheelchair only when he feels like it -- clash. It's almost unintentionally surreal. Still, any movie that tries to raise awareness about the environment and the urgent need to take care of it gets a certain amount of credit, and Herzog's heart is in the right place, even if his head isn't.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Salt and Fire's violence. How much violence is shown to get the movie's point across? Is it all necessary to the story?

  • How does Matt Riley convey his concerns about the salt flat disaster? What's his plan, and how is it supposed to work? Did it work on you?

  • Did this movie make you more or less concerned about the environment and climate change?

  • Are any of the characters here role models? Why or why not?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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