Review: ‘Natural Born Killers’

Natural Born Killers is a heavy duty acid trip, quite possibly the most hallucinatory and anarchic picture made at a major Hollywood studio in at least 20 years. A scabrous look at a society that promotes murderers as pop culture icons, as well as a scathing indictment of a mass media establishment that caters to and profits from such star-making, this is Oliver Stone's most exciting work to date strictly from a filmmaking point of view.

Natural Born Killers is a heavy duty acid trip, quite possibly the most hallucinatory and anarchic picture made at a major Hollywood studio in at least 20 years. A scabrous look at a society that promotes murderers as pop culture icons, as well as a scathing indictment of a mass media establishment that caters to and profits from such star-making, this is Oliver Stone’s most exciting work to date strictly from a filmmaking point of view.

A rare Stone film in that it’s neither historically rooted nor written originally by him, Killers still shows the bloody fingerprints of its original author, Quentin Tarantino, who receives story credit only, although Stone has supplied a thick layer of sociopolitical commentary readily recognizable as his own.

Film is divided into two halves, the first of which lays out the crazy three weeks during which the lead couple gun down 52 people out West, the second of which presents the insane media circus which surrounds their incarceration, a live in-prison interview, a riot, and their subsequent amazing escape.

Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) kill for the sake of their great love for each other, they say, and the film’s psychological ambitions never get much deeper than that. In an audacious comic conceit, flashbacks show Mallory’s previous family life literally in sitcom terms, as meanie Dad (Rodney Dangerfield) bullies and molests her before hunky escaped con Mickey comes along to rescue her and launch their killing spree, a la Badlands, by mowing down her folks.

Their capture sends the picture into an even higher gear, as the irrepressible Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr) intends to capture his highest ratings with a live interview on Super Bowl Sunday. The unhinged good ol’ boy warden (Tommy Lee Jones) has brought in a tough law enforcer (Tom Sizemore) to figure out a way to eliminate Mickey and Mallory in-house, but Mickey’s survival instinct prevails.

The sheer amount of carnage is numbingly enormous, even though its stylized, sometimes even cartoon-like quality makes the killing much less shocking than in more realistic contexts. Visually, the film is a sensation, resembling a demonically clever light show at a late ’60s rock concert. The narrative is related in color 35mm, black-and-white, 8mm and video, and at different speeds.

Performers are uniformly pushed to the brink, Harrelson and Lewis are all lust (blood and sex) and no conscience as the pretty couple ‘naturally born bad.’ Jones is broader than he’s ever been as the sweaty, lip-smacking warden none too grand at his job. Standout perf comes from Downey.

Natural Born Killers

Production

Ixtlan/New Regency/Warner. Director Oliver Stone; Producer Jane Hamsher, Don Murphy, Clayton Townsend; Screenplay David Veloz, Richard Rutowski, Oliver Stone; Camera Robert Richardson; Editor Hank Corwin, Brian Berdan; Music Budd Carr (exec. prod.); Art Director Victor Kempster

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1994. Running time: 116 MIN.

With

Woody Harrelson Juliette Lewis Robert Downey Jr Tommy Lee Jones Rodney Dangerfield Tom Sizemore
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  1. LOL says:

    Hollywood don’t make them like this no more, man. Shame, really.

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