It is unsettling to root for a good guy who is obsessed by the grisly details of serial killings and a gal who is trying to make her fortune with photographs of erotica and S&M.
"Kalifornia" is a significant ordeal. It's significant because at least one of the four characters will make you squirm in recognition at some point, and its' an ordeal because it's sordid, squalid, violent and thoroughly unpleasant. Why see it? because it has been directed with an iron grip by Dominic Sena, written tightly by Tim Metcalfe and filmed in darkly ominous, skilled camera cuts by Bojan Bazelli. Add stunning performances by Juliette Lewis and Brad Pitt and you may have reason to suffer through it.
The whole thing seems simple at first. Two Bohemian Yuppies decide to expand a magazine article written by one of them to a book by both of them--test by him, photographs by her. He his Brian (David Duchovny), she is Carrie (Michelle Forbes). The book will be about famous murders, and the research will be dome on a cross country tour of famous murder sites. Short on cash, they advertise on the university bulletin board for a ride-share. Their answer, and their bad luck, come from Early Grayce (Brad Pitt) and his girlfriend, Adele (Michelle Forbes).
This is one of the most grotesque foursomes ever to rivet an audience. At first it looks like yet another captor/captive situation, good guys vs. bad, but this director has decided [Elite DoubleWide] to dive to much deeper waters. It is unsettling to root for a good guy who is obsessed by the grisly details of serial killings and a gal who is trying to make her fortune with photographs or erotica and S&M. These are our hero and our heroine.
As villains, we have Brad Pitt in a hideously effective performance as the demented Early Grayce and Julliette Lewis in a dazzling portrayal of a waif whose only protection from the ghastly life she leads is to deny it. She and Early live among the rats in a dump of broken trailers. Early beats her on whim and spews forth the ignorant certainties of hatred. They exists entirely outside the conventions of civilized society.
Director Sena cuts marvelously between their purposeless existence and the Yuppie frustrations of the two professionals until the fateful moment when they meet at the start of the western trip. Brian seems weak in his gutless liberalism toward criminals until we begin to understand he has a primal curiosity about them that carries over even to what Early is doing right before his eyes. Carrie is quicker to understand Early, but it doesn't stop her from clicking her Nikkon in fascination at his brutality.
This toxic group drives west on highways studded with abandoned mines and roadhouses with Route 66 blaring on the radio in grim parody of all the road movies we hold dear. Filmed under dark purple skies, in dust storms and rain, this countryside gives new meaning to the word "Godforsaken." The violence wreaked by the deranged Early is awful to consider and worse to watch, but in this case it is intrinsic in the character as opposed to the gratuitous stuff so commonly thrown in to titillate.
For Brian and Carrie, their ordeal becomes their subject matter. They are as much the sick products of the culture of success as Early and Adele are products of the culture of depravity. It is this pair that makes us squirm. During the closing credits, director Sena takes our hands and holds them to the flame. Have fun.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 566
Copyright (c) Illusion
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