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Natural Born Killers


Mallory: a teenage girl from a dysfunctional family. Her father’s a perverted and violent jerk (Rodney Dangerfield), and her mom doesn’t do anything to stop him. Life’s hell, until she meets Mickey, a delivery boy for a meat store who happens to find Mallory real cute. Together, they kill her parents and begin a journey through the US, across road 66. They get married and everywhere they go, people get killed. Before long, the couple’s America’s most wanted, both by the police and the media. This is basically the story of this great film, based on a screenplay from Quentin Tarantino. His script was rewritten by three different writers (including director Oliver Stone), but it’s still amazing. The characters are interesting, the storyline is gripping and the dialogue is brilliant. The big difference between Tarantino’s original script and Stone’s movie is that the Reservoir Dogs director merely wanted to make a cool, exciting movie, while the more mature Stone wants to make you think and realize how perverted it is to actually enjoy a movie about mass murderers. The film is not as much about Mickey and Mallory’s twisted journey than it is about how America becomes obsessed with them. Lord knows this ain’t far-fetched, when OJ Simpson’s murder trial fascinated everyone for more than a year. This is “Badlands” for the mass media age.

Oliver Stone does an amazing job behind the camera, and the editing is totally delirious: it’s one of the most visually dazzling films I’ve ever seen. It goes from normal 35mm film to black and white 16mm, super 8, inserts, video, cartoons, sitcom-style… The cast is also excellent. Woody Harrelson plays Mickey Knox with a lot of attitude, making him both psychotic and likable, and that’s what’s disturbing. The guy does horrible things, but we’re weirdly compelled to watch him. Evil has always been more appealing than nice. Juliette Lewis is excellent as Mallory. She gives a wrenching performance; she does bad things too, but she seems to have more of a conscience, maybe even feelings. The romance between the two is surprisingly involving; they have a long-delayed kiss scene late in the film which is actually touching… Even though it takes place in the middle of a chaotic prison riot!

Many other well-known faces have supporting roles, most notably Robert Downey Jr. as a trashy reporter who sees the couple not as dangerous criminals but as a mean to get big ratings, Tommy Lee Jones as a tough as nails redneck jail warden with at least as much rage as his inmates, and Tom Sizemore as a cop with aggressive, perverted tendencies of his own. And then the film has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard. It was put together by Trent Reznor, and it features great songs from L7, Leonard Cohen, Tha Doggpound and of course, Nine Inch Nails. Yet this movie is more than funny, inventive and exciting: it’s fascinating and thought provoking. But here’s the tricky part: you have to keep in mind that this is a satire. That means that Oliver Stone and his film are not for mass murder. What Stone wants to show us is how the media sensationalise crime, and how we start to actually enjoy sleaze and violence.

Stone uses humor and over-the-top style to pass his message, not unlike the late Stanley Kubrick did with “A Clockwork Orange”. If you just sit and have fun watching the film and find Mickey and Mallory cool, you prove Stone’s point: some people are stupid and impressionable. But if you take the time to think, you’ll understand that Stone’s intentions are high-minded. This is not exploitation, dammit. Maybe you wonder why I take this so personal. It’s just that I’m getting fed up with all those self-righteous cry babies who blame Hollywood for every little thing that goes wrong in our society. A kid kills people, it’s the fault of the movies! No way, Jose. If you’ve got a head on your shoulders, you won’t start blasting away because of video games or movies or anything. If you choose to be dumb and go kill people after
watching a movie, it’s because your already insane in the membrane. The movie is just an excuse. People shouldn’t be suing Stone and accusing him of encouraging violence. “Natural Born Killers” is a true modern masterpiece, end of story. It reflects the unhealthy entertainment value of media coverage of violent crime, but it didn’t create it.

Warner Bros have released a pretty thorough DVD of “Natural Born Killers” as part of their Oliver Stone Collection. It includes a theatrical trailer, a short but interesting featurette about the making of the movie, as well as a bunch of deleted scenes, with introductions by Stone. Most of them are enjoyable, notably a look at the trial in which Mickey represents himself and manages to murder again right in the courtroom, a testimony by body-building brothers who admire Mickey and Mallory’s “edge” even though they cut their legs off with chain-saws, and a manic spoken art rant by Denis Leary. There’s also an alternate ending which I’m glad didn’t make the final cut, as it would have just diluted the impact of the movie. The best of the extras has to be the commentary track by Stone. Most of his insights come through already in the picture (which is the mark that he succeeded in putting his vision on screen), but it’s still nice to be able to hear his interpretation of the changes in film stock, of the story’s themes and of the characters and their actions. Altogether, the DVD enhances the watching experience, but even on its own, “Natural Born Killers” is rich and rewarding enough to be a valuable addition to any movie library.