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Kalifornia
USA 1993
Directed by Dominic Sena
Running time 117 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Regularly lumped in with ‘serial killer’ movies, principally because, somewhat confusingly, this is what the film itself claims to be concerned with, Kalifornia is in fact an updating of Terence Malick’s Badlands (1973) with Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis replacing Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek and with a more intense, less observational approach to the ‘killing spree’ genre. It is the sort of film which will draw quite divergent responses, as different aspects stick in one’s crop - the unlikely yuppie/poor white trash pairing, the unimpeded cross-country spree, the near stereotypical performances of Pitt and Lewis, the televisual blandness of the mis-cast Duvochny and for all its pretensions to cinematic sophistication it resolves its narrative with formulaic familiarity (how many times have we seen its final showdown and as for the post-trauma business-as-usual coda, the less said the better).

Despite its failings Kalifornia is a gripping ride. Like a prettier De Niro, Pitt always responds well to roles requiring physical brutality and commands the screen with his Okie swagger, Lewis is effective as the damaged girl-child and Michelle Forbes gorgeously chic as the black-clad photographer girlfriend. Only Duvochny fails to invest his character with personality.

Writer Tim Metcalfe and director Sena have made a stylish genre film that introduces a number of sub-themes on violence and representation with much greater subtlety than Oliver Stone managed to do in the thematically-related Natural Born Killers which came out the following year (and which replaced Pitt with Woody Harrelson but kept Juliette Lewis as the co-dependent girlfriend).  Disappointingly, the film fails to follow them through.

 

 

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