The name Early Grayce deceivingly suggests the patience and understanding of a sympathetic cleric. However, the closest screen preacher this outwardly laconic man resembles is the vengeful and driven faux minister incarnated by Robert Mitchum in “Night of the Hunter.” Both the vintage thriller and the intriguing “Kalifornia” are cut from the same cloth, even if they ultimately steer different paths.
At a time when violence pervades the screen, the film’s subject matter is all the more disturbing. The fascination with the homicidal urge and the inability to recognize it within ourselves and others provides the chilling core of this road movie. Though somewhat overplayed and coy about its destination, the film packs a helluva wallop and should do solid business on the specialized circuit after its preem in competition at the Montreal Film Festival.
Though Early (Brad Pitt) commands the most attention, it is magazine writer Brian Kessler (David Duchovny) who relates the harrowing saga. After completing an assignment on a serial killer, Brian decides his research on similar psychos would make a nifty coffee-table book. He concocts a cross-country tour of nefarious murder locations to collect on-site info that will be augmented by photos shot by g.f. Carrie Laughlin (Michelle Forbes).
Prior to their setting out, the film introduces Early and his significant other, the bedraggled, naive Adele Corners (Juliette Lewis). Cross-cut with the more mundane lives of the yuppyish couple in
Pittsburgh is a picture of their white-trash, trailer-park life, where fragile circumstances tend to erupt into unpleasant consequences.
Early happens upon a ride-share ad to California on a bulletin board at the university where he works as a janitor. No doubt he’s intrigued by Brian’s invitation to visit ghoulish haunts. It doesn’t really matter that as a parolee he can’t leave the state — he’s certainly not going to tell his co-drivers about his situation.
Carrie is rather horrified by the look of the young couple, while Brian only finds it amusing that the pair are so formal in their language.
Early and Adele are certainly familiar caricatures, but so are Brian and Carrie. It’s how each breaks from the mold that brings the juice to Tim Metcalfe’s script and director Dominic Sena’s interpretation.
From the opening frames, the danger in Early’s temperament is evident, and it doesn’t take long for him to show his capacity for murder. Brian’s susceptibility as he cozies up to the man’s easy machismo, and viewer identification with the lure of danger, is palpable and disquieting.
Pitt here demonstrates the promise his first roles could only suggest. Unquestionably charismatic, he explores the many layers of his character with quiet resolve, and vents both the horror and black-comic implications therein.
Duchovny is strong in an essentially thankless part, and Forbes as Carrie registers as a unique presence in her major screen debut. Lewis gives an affectless performance that by turns registers pity, pathos and pluck.Continued from page 2
An extremely handsome production imbued with a chilling, surrealistic sensibility, “Kalifornia” is a visual and aural treat. Bojan Bazelli’s camerawork is more than aptly complemented by the Carter Burwell score. The film will send Sena’s artistic stock up the charts.
A marketing challenge for distributor, the film can only be helped by the debate on its use of violence.