Werner Herzog’s super-volcano eco-thriller sees a three-person UN delegation fly to an unidentified South American country to investigate an ecological disaster called El Diablo Blanco. There’s a sleazy scientist (Gael Garcia Bernal), his meek antithesis (Volker Michalowski) and their vapid group leader (Veronica Ferres). Upon arrival, they are kidnapped by a group led by a mysterious CEO (Michael Shannon), whose company is responsible for the impending disaster.
Before a faintly promising premise can kick off, the script shamelessly writes off Gael Garcia Bernal after less than 10 minutes because his character has diarrhoea – or, as the script puts it: “hordes of protozoans swirling in my digestive tract” – and eventually side-lines one of the greatest working actors in the industry today (Shannon) to focus on Veronica Ferres. And there is no easy way to say this: Ferres’ speech cadence and telenovela delivery is so jarring, you legitimately wonder whether she has been dubbed in post-production.
However, not everything can be blamed on her sub-par acting. Like his recent scripts, the overwritten dialogue sounds like Google-translated non-sequiters, and not even an actor of Shannon’s heft can make a line like “Truth is the only daughter of time” sound anything but howlingly awful. Don’t be fooled by Shannon and Garcia Bernal’s involvement, the promise of a few impressive vistas of Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats or by those who will argue that it’s all a voluntary parody on Herzog’s part; the truth of the matter is that a natural catastrophe would be preferable to this stilted dross.
Salt and Fire | Directed by Werner Herzog (Germany/US/Mexico, 2016) with Michael Shannon, Veronica Ferres. Starts December 8.