Directed by Dominic Sena, “Kalifornia” centres on two couples and takes place on the road. On the one hand, we have an intelligent pair of up-and-coming journalists: Brian Kessler and Carrie Laughlin, played by David Duchovny and Michelle Forbes, who are in the midst of an important Serial Killers book project and who are eager to reach the coast of California in the hope of a better life. On the other hand, we have two beaten-down-by-life vagabonds: Early Grayce and Adele Corners, played by Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis, who are easily labelled as “white trash” in the film and who are accustomed to the life of crime and delinquency, wanting nothing more than a ride across the US at someone else’s expense. A chance meeting between the two pairs sets an unimaginable chain of events.
At the first glance, the movie premise sounds cheesy and uninviting. The movie may seem like just another road-action flick from the 1990s. However, this first impression soon proves false, and, in fact, there are a lot of things to admire in “Kalifornia”. First of all, “Kalifornia” sits well with other road movies of the 1990s, and will undoubtedly provoke many feelings of nostalgia for that time. From “Thelma & Louise” (1991) and “My Own Private Idaho” (1991) to “True Romance” (1993) and “The Getaway” (1994), road movies had a very special place in the 90s decade, and “Kalifornia”, with its unassuming story, memorable characters and deliberate pace, has every tone of a very enjoyable movie. Unlike other films, the movie does not emphasise any particular events or scenes: it unveils without haste and we move from scene-to-scene in almost one breath.
One of the most fascinating things about this film is the comparison made between the duos. In that way, the film is like a nice criminological study trying to figure out, as Duchovny’s character in the film attempts, whether the lack of conscience and repeated delinquency are an inherited trait or could have been learned in a social environment. The contrast between the pairs is accentuated throughout the film: from their mannerism and lines of dialogue to the clothing they wear. If Brian and Carrie hold meaningful conversations between themselves, while being coolly dressed in black, Early and Adele, with their thick, barely comprehensible southern dialects, are carelessly clad in jeans, ready for some spontaneous song to sing along.
Although the script has its faults, it is straightforward and interesting. The couples in the movie are all set on a predictable journey, but it turns out to be anything but, and the audience never quite knows what to expect in a few moments’ time. There are violence and sex scenes to make Lars Von Trier blush and Tarantino nod in agreement, and “Kalifornia” also has a nice melodramatic ending, which drives the message home quite nicely. The movie’s image is what you would expect from any movie made in 1993. The director uses his favourite “semi-sepia, colour-corrected lenses” that makes the picture stand out.
However, the real “revelation” in the film is the portrayal of Early Grayce and Adele Corners. The couple is very realistically portrayed by Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis, who did a really excellent job taking over the characters of mentally-twisted people. Early and Adele both have very heavy southern accents, the mannerism of someone coming from very disadvantaged and poor families, and propensity for extreme violence and childishness on part of Early and Adele respectively. Pitt is surprisingly good. Just coming off the set of “Thelma & Louise”, he takes the naughtiness of a-carefree-guy-character to a whole new level. At the first glance, his character appears friendly though careless; easy-going, but on guard. However, as the movie progresses, we see some unexpected and scary dimensions of his character: Early soon converts from your typical problematic guy from the South to a sociopathic and cunning person capable of despicable acts of violence.
Lewis in the role of Adele – Early’s girlfriend is also mesmerising. The actress managed to convey the silliness, naivety and simplicity of her character perfectly. Lewis’s Adele is really that girl – once so “next-door”, but now trapped in an abusive relationship from which there is no escape. Best known for his role in the “X-Files” TV series, David Duchovny impresses less, delivering an even and unimaginative performance. Overall, what inevitably boosts the quality of “Kalifornia” is not so much the Duchovny/Forbes pairing and their fascination with serial killers and haunted places, but Pitt/Lewis’s unforgettable characters and the contrast they project in the film.
“Kalifornia” is not for everyone, but it is an exciting and honest action film based on an interesting script and shining great performances (especially by Pitt and Lewis). Although some have accused the film of copying “Natural Born Killers” (1994), in all fairness, the characters and the plot are different, even though Juliette Lewis is cast in both. In sum, “Kalifornia” is an unjustly overlooked movie. A late renowned film critic, Roger Ebert, once gave this film four out of four stars, meaning that that the film’s “subtlety” is capable of being noticed and enjoyed by some even today. 7/10