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NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994) ****

Natural Born Killers is Oliver Stone’s masterpiece.  It features many of his visual trademarks: Indian imagery, hallucinations, trip sequences, and lots of black and white footage.  He wraps it all together in a darkly comic tale of how the media sensationalizes mass murder and repackages it as entertainment.

 

Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) are two of America’s most famous mass murderers.  After a countrywide killing spree, they are finally brought to justice by a sleazeball lawman (Tom Sizemore) and sent to a maximum security prison.  A year later on Super Bowl Sunday, tabloid television reporter Wayne Gayle (Robert Downey, Jr.) arranges to have a live interview with the couple.  When their interview incites a prison riot, Mickey and Mallory use the opportunity to reunite and escape.

 

Natural Born Killers is an amazingly prophetic movie not only because of it’s depiction of how the media sensationalizes murderers, but also in the way it’s shot.  When the film was first released, all of the quick-cut editing and use of different film stocks was jarring.  Nowadays in this age of ADD, it almost seems quaint.

 

The funny thing about Natural Born Killers is that Mickey and Mallory are actually the least interesting characters in the movie.  This is fitting because the flick is more about the media hoopla surrounding the couple and less about the couple themselves.  Damn, there are some terrific performances in this movie.  Rodney Dangerfield gives the performance of his career as Mallory’s father who abuses her during her sitcom style flashbacks (complete with canned laughter).  Robert Downey, Jr. is also great as the journalist who gets caught up in the couple’s nihilism and Tommy Lee Jones is fucking hilarious as the prison warden.  I think my favorite performance though came from Tom Sizemore.  He’s thoroughly awesome in this flick and it’s a shame he self-destructed his own career because he could’ve been one of the all-time great character actors.

 

The real star of the movie is Stone though.  Most of his films reflect his general mistrust of the government, but here he directs that same venom at the news media.  And in addition to all of the various cinematic gymnastics he does, Stone also gives us what is probably the greatest prison riot scene ever filmed.  This is definitely the most batshit insane flick he ever did.

 

Although time has kinda blunted the film’s original shock value, Natural Born Killers is still one of the craziest fucking movies ever made.  What I like most about it is that it defies analysis.  There are no hidden meanings or subtle messages in the flick.  It’s all right there in black and white (and color and sepia tone and Super 8).  The media is turning killers into celebrities and there is nothing you can do about it but change the channel. 

 

Quentin Tarantino wrote the original screenplay, but Stone rewrote the script so much that Tarantino later disowned the finished product.  Although it would’ve been interesting to see what Tarantino would’ve done with the material, I still think Stone’s insane vision is what makes it a classic.

 

Natural Born Killers is on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of 1994 at the Number 2 spot which puts it in between Pulp Fiction and The Shadow.

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