In Detroit, a lonely pop culture geek marries a call girl, steals cocaine from her pimp, and tries to sell it in Hollywood. Meanwhile, the owners of the cocaine, the Mob, track them down in an attempt to reclaim it.
Brian Kessler, a journalist researching serial killers, and his photographer girlfriend Carrie set out on a cross-country tour of the sites of the killings. Sharing the ride and their expenses are Early Grayce, a paroled white trash criminal, and his girlfriend Adele. As the trip progresses, Early begins to appear more and more unstable, and Brian and Carrie begin to fear that they may have a real-life killer in the back seat of their car.Written by
Scott Renshaw <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Michelle Forbes' photographer character is a reference to the controversial photographer Andres Serrano, specifically his series "History of Sex" and "The Klan" (from the early 1990s). See more »
Early Grayce seems to be driving two different Pontiac Grand Prix in the opening scenes; the headlights differ. See more »
[looking at Carrie's photos]
[drops photo on ground]
[drops photo on ground]
[drops photo on ground, looks at next photo and shows it to Brian and Carrie saying]
Now that don't leave much to the imagination, does it?
[drops it to the ground and looks at the next photo and shows it to the two again saying]
I know him.
[photo shows a person with white mask on]
[...] See more »
European release and US video/laserdisc unrated versions feature about one minute of additional violent footage not present in US theatrical R-rated version. Unrated version of sex scene between Brian and Carrie is slightly longer and more explicit than the R rated version. See more »
I had seen this film many years ago and it had made a lasting impression on me. Alas, I have hardened to many films over the years and did not expect to be impressed by 'Kalifornia' upon watching again recently. I am pleased to say that it is every bit as unnerving and watchable as it was ten or so years ago.
There are two things which really give this movie its power. The first is its cast. We have a staggeringly disturbing turn by a young Brad Pitt as Early Grace. Knowing Pitt, as we all do, as one of the most enduring heart-throbs Hollywood has ever had, it is refreshing to see him play such a vile, unattractive character. Pitt pulls the show off without resorting to white-trash cliché or parody, and manages to remain genuinely terrifying throughout the movie.
Juliette Lewis is equally impressive as Grace's tragic girlfriend, playing the character like a ten year old girl with a forty year old's life experience. Lewis manages to evoke pity (for her character's station in life) as well as contempt (for her naivety), but she underpins her performance with the kind of subtlety rarely seen by an actor so young. Personally, I think it's a tragedy that neither Pitt nor Lewis were nominated for any awards for their performances here.
David Duchovony and Michelle Forbes are both perfectly cast as the yuppy couple who unwittingly end up travelling across the US with Pitt and Lewis. Duchovony is aptly geeky and naive, and Forbes seems emphatically cynical and shut-off, but both actors manage to convincingly portray their characters' changes as they are equally intrigued, repulsed and strangely attracted to Pitt.
The fine casting and uniformly brilliant acting aside, this film really grabs us by the proverbial balls through its flawless pacing. At the time 'Kalifornia' was released, Hollywood was releasing a slew of nice-character-turns-out-to-be-psychotic movies ('Single White Female', 'Pacific Heights', 'The Hand That Rocks The Cradle', 'Deceived', 'Sleeping With The Enemy' etc). Most of these movies followed the same formula, the only variation being the nature of the relationship between good guy and bad guy. 'Kalifornia' doesn't really stray too far from this territory, but its first two acts are the perfect example of the slow-boil thriller, and we are kept on the very edge of our seats waiting for the tide to turn.
When the penny does drop, and Pitt is let loose to play the maniacal bad guy, the film shifts gears completely and the last twenty minutes don't quite live up to rest of the movie. That said, the action is thick and fast and the resolution is suitable cold. The fight is over, but the scars will always be there.
Much of the narration (provided by a somewhat whiny, pre X-files Duchovony) is a tad contrived. Of course, it's meant to be from the book the Duchovony's journalist character has written, so one could argue that the self-conscious narration is meant to be a nod to the kind of sensationalised style in which most journalists write.
The film is largely a success and is certainly a cut above 90% of the thrillers of the past twenty years. Highly recommended, but not for the weak of stomach or mind. This film is disturbing on more than one level. But then, it's meant to be.
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