There are films that are disturbing to watch and yet you are drawn to them. The subject is so disrupting to you yet you can’t turn away. The film Kalifornia is such a film. The themes presented are upsetting to any normal person yet the film is so well played that you will be mesmerized. As with many really great films the plot appears simple on the surface but there are layers and sub text that will take several viewings to fully appreciate. Brian (David Duchovny) is a struggling writer. He has written a well-received magazine article on a serial killer and now has to come up with a novel on the subject. He has already spent his advance and the deadline draws ever closer. His girlfriend Carrie (Michelle Forbes) is a photographer that specializes in the bazaar, images that incorporate many S and M themes. The couple decides to team up, Brian supplying the text and Carrie the images. To do this they will travel cross-country and visit the actual sites of serial killings. Since they are broke they need someone to share the cost of the trip. Enter a white trash couple Early (Brad Pitt) and his girl Adele (Juliette Lewis). Early is ready to split, skipping out on his parole. Upset with the audacity of his landlord demanding the rent, Early kills the man showing not one iota of remorse. Yes, Early is a serial killer in the making. He is a man born without a conscious, with no drive except his own pleasure. Adele is a browbeaten young woman. She has little identity of her own, she defines herself by what Early tells her. As the two couples met and embark on their journey the stage is set. This is a film of contrasts. Yuppie versus white trash, refined versus vulgar and civilized versus almost feral. Of course the biggest contrast is between the man seeking the stories of serial killers and a man on the verge of becoming one. One scene in particular displays the vast distance in a worldview between the couples. While Carrie is worldly and self-assured, when she offers a cigarette to Adele, the waif like girl declines replying, "I used to smoke, but Early broke me of it.". While these attitudes are appellant to Carrie and Brian they try to remain their polite liberal selves and try to accept people that ‘are different’. A strange codependent bond forms between the couples. Carrie and Adele often staying together talking while Easy shows the naïve Brian how to shoot a gun. Brian had only written about violence and is now faced with an opportunity to get a taste of it. Soon, the taste becomes bitter as the yuppie duo realize what they are actually into and how deadly Early actually is. Many people complained that the movie would give the wrong people ‘bad’ ideas. The point of the film is so people are just born evil. They do not need prompting from TV, movies or rap music to commit horrible acts. It is as much their nature as refraining from such depravity is ours. The story is like a nineties version of Sartre’s ‘No Exit’, mutually exclusive people throw together with no way out.
The film spends most of its time on the four principles. The casting could not have been better. The film was made during the first season break from X Files. As such Duchovny had a chance to act in a film before he was really type into the role of Mulder. He does borrow a lot from Mulder for the character of Brian. For one both are willing to believe. Brian is willing to believe everything will work out even as the evidence mounts that Early is a psychopath. He plays his role with a determination to make it work and he succeeds. Forbes is another face best know for her TV work. On Star Trek the Next Generation and Homicide Life in the Streets she was always the cool, collected one. Here it is Carrie that is the voice of reason, the one more ready to panic but able to hold things in. Lewis is always perfect as the child-woman. The innocent trapped by circumstances she in unable or unwilling to change. Brad Pitt certainly put the pretty boy image behind him in this film. As Early there is nothing attractive about him. He is unwashed, unshaven and uncouth. Barely able to act in a normal world Early must try to hide the feelings of hatred to get by. Pitt smolders in this role, like a trap ready to spring, his acting here is among the best performances he has given. This film shows the talent of these four your actors at their best.
This was director Dominic Sena’s freshman work. He has gone on to the lamented ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’ and the more recent ‘Swordfish’. Of the three Kalifornia is definitely his best work to date. He holds the reigns on four actors each with a greatly different character to portray. He manages to showcase each one without detracting from the others. He turns these four into a great ensemble cast. His scenes are starkly realistic. The lighting is often bleak and dismal. There is little to brighten the screen, which reflects the desired mood perfectly. The widescreen version really shows off how Sena can set the stage. Often the actors are on opposite sides of the screen as the division between them becomes more apparent to the audience. Perfect, simply perfect use of the frame.
The disc shows the potential DVD can aspire to. There are both rated ‘R’ and unrated versions present as well as full screen or 2.35:1 wide screen. The only special feature is a behind the scenes documentary. The audio is Dolby Surround but don’t be put off by this. It is crisp and clean and gets the job done. This is a film that may change how you view movies. Definitely worth your time but not for the faint hearted.