1 Hr., 58 Mins.
Kalifornia June 16, 2018
much so. It must be physical, but not affectedly. And it must be scary, but in such a way that intensifies slowly and assuredly. Pitt, who’d by then only had a few substantial leading parts, seems unfazed by the challenges presented by the all-important minutiae. What we get here is something of an embodiment.
That’s pivotal in making Kalifornia the efficient, sometimes-terrifying psychological thriller that it is. What I like best about it, though, is that, in addition to that detailed performance, its concept similarly skirts convolution and contrivance: It feels plausible, and the desperations of its characters are palpable.
The film introduces us to two couples. There is Carrie and Brian (Michelle Forbes and David Duchovny), intelligent and ambitious. And there is Early and Adele (Pitt and a magnificent Juliette Lewis), trailer park-bound, uneducated, and reckless.
Kalifornia is mostly concerned with Carrie and Brian, who are the kinds of overzealous yuppies who take themselves way too seriously but have enough spunk to signify that they’ll probably get far in their lives.
When we first meet them, they seem eager to establish themselves in their respective fields. Brian, a graduate student, is a writer and researcher who intends to build his career off true crime — namely lurid, rural mass murders. Carrie, chain-smoking and cool, is a provocative photographer struggling to make a name for herself. Both are keen on moving to California, where they believe avenues to make a living off their interests are everywhere.
Brian devises a plan that will give them a concrete reason to head west. He thinks he and Carrie should embark upon a cross-country road trip during which they’ll visit the scenes of infamous mass murders. Carrie will take photographs of the sites; Brian will do the accompanying writing. Eventually, their exploits will be compiled in book form.
Brian, who has captured the interests of publishers thanks to some well-received journalistic articles, is certain the plan could get them far. And Carrie, who knows that her avant-garde, hyper-sexual photographic style won’t be taken seriously until she has some kind of prestige to back her, figures Brian’s idea is solid enough to agree to.
Money is tight, though. So Brian posts an ad at his university. He will need someone, or multiple someones, to share the gas and driving responsibilities for the duration of the trip. Payment, it is suggested, will come in the form of book sales later on.
This ad is coincidentally seen by Early, who’s at the university because he’s interested in a janitorial job. The ad captures his attention. Thinking the trip will make for a great opportunity for him and his lady love, the childish Adele, to start a new life in California, he tells Brian that he’s available.
What Brian and Carrie don’t know is that Early is on parole, on the verge of getting evicted, broke, and prone to violence. Or that, over the course of the odyssey, he will kill multiple people under the noses of his companions.
The rest of the movie takes place on the road — moving from room to room, city to city, murder site to murder site. The class differences between these people are obvious, yet at first are not much discussed. Carrie and Brian are willing to accept much of Early and Adele’s questionable behavior for a number of reasons: their willingness to go on this trip with them, their uncertainty as to whether the bad vibes are rooted in something greater, their fear of seeming impolite or stuck-up. If the movie were more traditional, it would likely still be interesting. Most directors might try to turn this into a thriller wherein Early’s homicidal identity is revealed during the first act, with the rest of the feature watching as everyone around him tries to escape.
Kalifornia, despite taking place on the road, never takes the conventional route. While it does conclude the way we expect it to — of course things are going to build toward a violent, Sam Peckinpah-style climax that allows the supposed “good guys” to ride off into the sunset — the film is more about watching these disparate people interact and get to know one another in the face of unusual circumstances. It is also about how we tend to either romanticize or try to understand people polar opposites from ourselves for no good reason besides thinking it’s the right thing to do. About how the societal predisposition to be “courteous” can oftentimes lead to trouble. About how some people are inherently bad and some inherently good, but, in the most urgent of moments, sometimes equally immoral and self-serving.
It is a captivating thriller. And this cast — particularly Pitt — is excellent; performances are bolstered thanks to how convincingly an uneasy sort of chemistry is cultivated. Certainly, this isn’t an enjoyable film: it’s brooding and depressive, and never panders to the sorts of thrills that might make those characteristics more stomachable. But it’s magnetic all the same. A-
he success of Kalifornia (1993), a road-trip-from-hell sort of movie, is, to a limited degree, dependent on the performance of Brad Pitt. In it, he plays a sullied ne’er-do-well named Early who’s taken to serial killing as a way to get rid of the obstacles he faces on the regular. He is the feature’s antagonist, and is the type who can exist in the everyday: capable of slipping through the cracks without anyone noticing.
Pitt has to be careful. The performance must be unhinged, but not too