Natural Born Killers
Natural Born Killers
1994. Directed by Oliver Stone.
Oliver Stone's hyper visual masterpiece, Natural Born Killers, is a kinetic, ultra violent frenzy that forgoes deep seeded metaphors in favor of blunt force trauma satire.
Mickey and Mallory Knox are two lovers who find one another in a sea of sexual abuse, murder, and pop culture saturation. They embark on an acidic sojourn through the Southwest, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. Once captured, their ordeal becomes televised gospel, with an opportunistic reporter interviewing Mickey on the eve of his transfer to a mental health facility. His candid embrace of his sociopathic nature sets off a riot within the prison where the interview is being filmed, relaying a tide of blood through the apathetically omnipotent camera's eye.
Woody Harrelson and Juliet Lewis star as the spree killing duo. Lewis is perfect as an abuse survivor, harnessing sexual extremities and psychological devastation in a visceral display of commitment. Harrelson delivers the performance of his career as Mickey. Harrelson presents as an unstable eye of the storm, an American nightmare formed from an eroding sense of masculinity and a sexy, cautionary convolution of reckless love and publicized sensationalism. Everything about Mickey is dialed to the extreme with the only, natural response to be bullet or blade.
Robert Downey Jr. as the narcissistic reporter is a supernova performance. He conveys the menace of Stone's media indictment filtered through his own, uncomfortably personal embodiment of the insatiable hunger to remain in the limelight, no matter the cost. The always solid Tom Siezemore is charmingly nasty as the detective who vows to bring the Knox's to justice, an abrasive caricature of law enforcement's place in Stone's pugnacious circus. Tommy Lee Jones has the dubious honor of the film's best role as a morally devoid prison warden. His turn has to be seen to be believed. Between the ridiculous hair, his rabid dog visage, and Jones's complete immersion, the warden steals every scene, including an outright hilariously futile use of mace that will have you laughing, despite the grimness that pervades.
Stone altered a story written by Quentin Tarantino for the script. The dialogue is bifurcated into the campy surface level and a horrifying basement of accusation. Meredith Boswell's set decoration ups the ante, presenting the rotten core of Mickey and Mallory's journey with a dirty mattress aesthetic. Richard Hornung's costume design is another poisoned treat, presenting everyone as an idea, rather than reality. From 80's awful ties to Rodney Dangerfield's soiled wife beater, each costume is presented as an unromantic reflection of its Hollywood cliche.
Robert Richardson's cinematography, combined with the outstanding editing of Brian Berdan and Hank Corwin are the film's strongest elements. It's very rare that editing becomes the center of a picture, but Natural Born Killers is the exception. Virtually every frame of the movie is a volatile marriage of deafening colors, hypnotic visuals within visuals, and insistent violence. One of the best sequences is a 50's sitcom parody in which the terrors of child abuse are responded to with audience applause, making the viewer complicit in the events as bystanders to the abhorrent acts.
There's so much going on in every scene that one can't ignore Stone's genius approach. Other films have spent hours tackling just one of Natural Born Killers' various themes, while Stone elects to take a purposefully blatant approach. If the themes of violence, media irresponsibility, child maltreatment, and freedom from social constraints are endless oceans, Stone's murderous vision is a putrid sewer. His refusal to present the events as anything other than a middle finger pointed at the spectators is divisive, cold, and one of the reasons this is a one of kind film.
Trent Reznor produced the eclectic soundtrack from his hotel room. An auditory snakebite, Reznor's audio mosaic features both iconic and original songs that fit seamlessly into each scene with an assaulting sense of familiarity. The songs you know are perfect and the ones you don't feel remarkably at home among the carnage.
Available now for digital rental, Natural Born Killers is lauded as one of the most controversial films ever made. Not for the weak of stomach, this a trip into the dark recesses of American values. The concepts of torment as spectacle and feigned sympathetic observation are repeatedly endless, but never get stale due to Stone's amazing control of greatest show on earth...or in hell. If you're looking for a film that mainlines it's intent with a rusty screwdriver, this is the movie for you.
Highly, highly recommend.