Worth A Look: 23.6%
Just Average: 10.11%
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8 reviews, 130 user ratings
|Natural Born Killers
by iF Magazine
Much has been made of the central concept behind Oliver Stone’s controversial film NATURAL BORN KILLERS since its release in 1994. The idea of portraying mass murderers as celebrities – pop idol darlings of the media – was anathema to many; perhaps this is because the notion hit a little too close to home for some.But Stone has always been one to rile up American audiences with his conspiracy theories, and in this case, conspiratorial take on Americana. Hey, if O.J. could be a hero to so many – even after being put on trial for murder – than why not Mickey and Mallory?
"Love it or hate it - It's a tough movie to ignore."
Of course, Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) are the centerpieces of Stone’s satire, a couple of mixed up kids who have known little more than violence their whole lives and merely respond to the world with the same. They set out on a killing spree that eventually captures the attention of America thanks to the mass media, which is actually presented as the real villain of the piece.
As personified by a Geraldo-type TV journalist named Wayne Gale (Robert Downey, Jr.), the media and its fixation on amoral types such as Mickey and Mallory seems to be Stone’s true target in NATURAL BORN KILLERS. Sure, the young couple are serial killers, but it’s television that turns them into heroes, complete with fan clubs and merchandising the likes of which only Ricky Martin could fathom.
On the one hand, the film works in that the entire enterprise is so over-the-top that it is difficult not to enjoy the proceedings despite yourself. Of course, this feeds into Stone’s message about the media’s ability to glamorize violence – and the filmmaker is well aware of the irony here.
Harrelson and Lewis are perfectly cast as the depraved duo who are seemingly capable of the worst crimes imaginable, and Downey, Jr. is great fun as the talk show host. He gives his character an Aussie accent that reeks of cheap tabloid TV, and one can feel his euphoria as his subjects’ body count mounts.
But it’s Stone’s direction that is the real star, and the filmmaker pulls out all the stops. NATURAL BORN KILLERS is a hodgepodge of styles and techniques, throwing in and mixing color and black & white, various gauges of film from 35mm to Super 8, video and animation – you name it. Stock footage is constantly popping up on rear projection screens in lieu of proper backgrounds, and the soundtrack often mixes and matches various bits of audio all at once. The film is a psychedelic exercise in garish style, and for pure inventiveness Stone deserves praise.
Take, for example, Mallory’s flashback to the day when she first met Mickey. Portrayed like a TV sitcom complete with a laugh track, the girl’s abusive upbringing is incongruously depicted against the all-too-familiar trappings of an entertainment format ingrained in our consciousness.
As Mallory’s father (Rodney Dangerfield) delivers one-liners worthy of any sitcom character, and the programmed audience laughs on schedule, we the viewer can see that he is actually much more than the typical TV dad. He is verbally and sexually abusive to his daughter, but the outlandish format that Stone uses to portray the scenario gets the better of us. You can’t help but laugh at the insanity of it all, despite the horror of Mallory’s situation.
Having said all that, Stone’s stylistic choices ultimately defeat themselves. While the purely ingenious cinematic flourishes are very cool at the start, they cannot sustain the feature length film. Neither can the story, which becomes so heavy handed and redundant that one wishes the director had made NATURAL BORN KILLERS into a short film instead of the overlong production that it turned out to be. After awhile, the style for style’s sake aspect of the picture falls apart, and the condemnations of media and society become less a concern than the simple question, “how much longer until the final credits roll?”
The Director’s Cut of the film has been available previously on VHS and Laserdisc but is new to DVD; this disc offers a 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track and a widescreen transfer of Stone’s original version of the film that’s pretty snazzy (the director was forced to make nearly 200 quick cuts by the MPAA for the picture’s theatrical release).
Essentially, the Director’s Cut flows a bit more coherently than the previous version of the film (if coherent is even a word that can be used in conjunction with NATURAL BORN KILLERS) and there’s some more violence here as well. Regardless, unless you’re a fan of the film, you’re not going to notice much difference between the two cuts (and there’s only a few minutes difference in running time anyway).
There are lots of extras on this DVD. Six deleted scenes, each with an introduction from the director, start off the special features. The scenes themselves (which run between two and nine minutes each) aren’t particularly noteworthy, and were better off left out of the final film, but Stone’s comments on each are worth a listen. He’s honest about what works with each scene and what doesn’t, and it's this sort of insight that makes the whole concept of “behind - the - scenes” materials worthwhile – never mind studio fluff pieces. Also included is an alternate ending, with Stone’s intro as well, which offers a substantially different finale to the film.
The making-of documentary, called CHAOS RISING: THE STORM AROUND NATURAL BORN KILLERS, also pulls no punches in its discussion of the film. Clocking in at around twenty-five minutes, CHAOS RISING features interviews with Stone, Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, (an oddly emaciated) Robert Downey Jr., and many others. Again, no studio PR nonsense here, as the crew has no hesitation in discussing their intake of psychedelic mushrooms during location scouting and other such matters regarding the making of the film.
The audio commentary with Stone is also worthwhile, as he discusses the technical aspects of the film's production as well as the controversial aftermath of its release and his personal take on the themes of the piece. Stone is an intense guy, but his commentary is pretty engaging to listen to – whether you agree with his views or not. The extras on the DVD are rounded out with trailers for other Trimark video releases, including ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, STORM OF THE CENTURY, and CUBE. There’s also a special DVD trailer for this Director’s Cut of NATURAL BORN KILLERS.To some, Stone’s film is considered one of the best pictures of the nineties. To others, it is an interesting experiment in style that no cinema enthusiast can afford not to examine. That doesn’t necessarily make NATURAL BORN KILLERS a great film, but it is certainly not to be ignored. Once again, DVD has presented us with the best format, aside from the big screen itself, with which to study a noteworthy movie. -- Scott Collura
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originally posted: 02/24/01 01:43:20
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