“Natural Born Killers” in itself is a picture of the ironic tragedy of the satire. This movie took the media and American culture head on, challenged it and spoofed it- as a result, American pop culture kicked it up a notch to become as outrageous as the parody! On top of that, few understood Stone’s film was a satire and instead accused him of promoting violence. This is a tragedy because “Natural Born Killers” really is a sharp and funny satire that helped to usher in the 90s with Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”.
Yes, it’s over the top, yes, it’s violent, yes, it’s flashy, and most of all, yes, it works! The effect may make you a bit dizzy, it may disturb, and may even offend, but this is a truly great piece of cinema. Like its great predecessors, which it freely homages, “In Cold Blood”, “Badlands”, and “Bonnie & Clyde”, this film is about two killers on the road who are in love. Unlikely movie stars Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis play Mickey and Malory. Through a few frantic and imaginative scenes we see them meet, fall in love, murder Malory’s abusive father, and hit the road. These scenes are instantly unforgettable, bearing a wit that may be overt, but is funny enough to accept. Meanwhile our heroes become a media sensation thanks to the TV show “American Maniacs”, hosted by Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr. with a British accent).
It isn’t all glitz and blood splatter. Auteur Stone works with (what remains of) Tarantino’s script to make all these characters into real people, and not symbols or cliches. Character motivation is related mostly through flashed images and flashbacks (as in “In Cold Blood”). The editing and superb Richardson camera work relate complex emotional states, as well as the frenzied mood of the violence. Oliver Stone does have the tendency to be peachy and over the top, but his strength in portraying sympathetic humanity over comes his weaknesses.
Under-appreciated actor Tom Sizemore (“True Romance”, “Heat”) plays detective Jack Scagnetti, the celebrity homicide cop who pursues and eventually captures Mickey and Malory (in what has to be one of the best, most intense arrest scenes in screen history). In the context of this film, he is a villain, but he is a human being just the same. He leads us into the second half of this picture, which has Mickey and Malory behind bars awaiting a big TV interview with Wayne Gale on Superbowl Sunday. Tensions build to one of the best climaxes a crime or prison movie ever had.
Rodney Dangerfield, Russell Means, and Tommy Lee Jones put in highly memorable appearances in supporting roles. On the director’s cut DVD we see cut footage of performances from Ashley Judd (her best work) and Dennis Leary. “Natural Born Killers” is many great small parts adding up to an even better whole. All of it is accented and sealed by a very good soundtrack arranged by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (who contribute the beautiful “A Warm Place”). This is a movie you won’t soon forget and will likely enjoy.
I recommend this to fans of Stone, of the movies I mentioned above, of Tarantino (he didn’t approve, but as a fan of his, I did), and to anyone who is simply curious about it. It’ll blow you away, in the good sense.
“Do you believe in fate?”