Kalifornia: Dominic Sena Directs Brad Pitt as a Sociopath

In Kalifornia, directed by Dominic Sena, Brian Kessler (David Duchovny) is a yuppie student priding himself on being liberal–his thesis deals with serial killers. Brian holds that criminals should not be reviled but rehabilitated, as their actions are determined by social rather than biological factors. His fascination with killers is matched by his girlfriend Carrie’s (Michelle Forbes) penchant for avant-garde photography that explores provocative sexual encounters.

Feeling stagnant, the couple yearns to move to California, the Dream Stat. They decide to collaborate on a terrific book that will document famous murder sites, a cross-country route that takes them to Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas. In need to split the trip’s expenses, they take aboard ex-con Early Grayce (Brad Pitt) and his girl Adele Corners (Juliett Lewis), who are also itching for a change. Early leaves behind a torched trailer and a shallow grave, in which he buried his landlord.

At road’s end, it’s Brian who journeys from sympathetic observer to aggressive survivor, when the volatile Early turns the voyage into a nearly lethal experience. Brian is forced to confront his own self-preserving desire–to kill or be killed.

Like True Romance’s characters, Kalifornia’s quartet consists of familiar types: Early and Adele represent liberal Americans’ worst nightmares of poor white trash. The most interesting figure is Adele, a sweet, undereducated waif. “Early beats me sometimes, she tells Carrie, “but only when I deserve it.” A likeable guy who “happens” to be a serial killer, Early’s sociopathic conduct is marked by total lack of consideration for the future.

Kalifornia takes its time before escalating into the inevitable Straw Dogs-like confrontation, where the sensitive-intellectual Brian, like Dustin Hoffman in the 1971 Peckinpah film, discovers that, when push comes to shove, we’re all aggressive brutes and animals, and violence is the law of the land