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8 reviews, 130 user ratings

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Natural Born Killers
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Brilliant, except when it's not."
4 stars

By now, American critics have worn out their thesauri hunting for adjectives to describe 'Natural Born Killers.' So I have set myself the following challenge: not to use the words "gonzo," "chaotic," "revolutionary," and especially "brilliant" in this review. So what does that leave? Words like "unpleasant," "breathtaking," "incoherent," "unforgettable," "exhausting," "disturbing," "hypocritical," "near-great," "oafish"....

As you can see, I'm of two minds about NBK. Would I recommend it? Definitely -- I aim to see it at least twice more. Yet I must be honest: NBK is electrifying, except when it's stupid. That's par for the course in a film by Oliver Stone, the burly master of cinematic assault (JFK, The Doors, Platoon). Here, however, Stone's approach is even more toxic and confrontational than usual -- that of a rapist who attacks your daughter in front of you, then tells you the experience will make you and her stronger. Stone both gleefully anticipates and wearily disdains our heated response to his work, a strange position for an artist. And he is an artist, a red-black mirror on ugly times.

Natural Born Killers is nothing if not ugly. Treating an original script by Quentin Tarantino as a blueprint, Stone has come up with a hectoring satire on our degraded culture. The most expensive experimental film made in this country since Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, NBK employs a variety of film stocks and techniques (video, animation, back-screen projection, morphing). Edited ferociously, so that each scabrous image pierces us like a flying shard of glass, the movie is a bubbling cauldron of movie sorcery, intended to suggest the violent iconography of the 20th century thrown into a blender. I smelled weed on many of the strangers surrounding me in the theater, but going to this movie stoned is redundant: The director makes sure you get Stoned. Nothing in NBK, literally not a single shot, looks or sounds normal, and Stone mounts an all-out war on our senses, our sensibilities, our sense of reality. This is an ambitious, all-or-nothing guerrilla project, and it seems churlish to point out that it's all a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

But it has to be said. For Natural Born Killers is without mind and heart. And plot. Stone follows two murderous young crackers, Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis), as they shoot and stab their way down the highways and through the ghost towns of the Southwest. On their trail are Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), a loathsome, violent detective who wants to capture them and pen a self-glorifying bestseller about them (he also has a thing for Mallory); and Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.), the pretentious Aussie host of the trash-TV series "American Maniacs," whose philosophy about his job seems to shift according to Stone's hop-skip whims. Everyone else in America seems to be cheering on these sociopathic rednecks -- everyone, that is, except the 52 corpses they leave in their wake. Mickey and Mallory come from dysfunctional backgrounds, and they kill for spiritual and cathartic reasons; years of Oprah and Donahue have taught us not to condemn these poor lost souls who continue, helplessly and unconsciously, the cycle of brutality. A movie that explored the new, misguided, touchy-feely media interest in psychos and their troubled origins (this is a climate that made possible the publication of a bewildered memoir by Jeffrey Dahmer's dad) would truly be a brave satire. But Stone takes the easy road, giving evil its own fan club. NBK is like a William S. Burroughs rewrite of The Legend of Billie Jean. These lovers are lean, cool and sexy, and they take no crap. Right on, Mickey and Mallory -- go get 'em.

Stone, an enemy of "the media" who somehow always forgets that he is also part of "the media," uses Scagnetti and Gale to score blatantly obvious satirical points off of "the media." No victim in Natural Born Killers is as viciously bloodied and mutilated as is "the media." That the film has been lionized by TV, print, and radio critics, that it has a tie-in soundtrack album and novelization, and that it owes at least half its success to the aura of controversy generated by advance media hype, are probably not ironies that Stone chooses to acknowledge. After all, he leaves out the most obvious touch of all: At the end, Mickey and Mallory take off for points unknown, and Oliver Stone makes a movie about them. What is Stone doing if not glorifying their trippy journey? He doesn't disapprove, and he doesn't view them neutrally.

Natural Born Killers has been likened to A Clockwork Orange by critics who seek another dark, violent satire to compare it with, but who may not have seen the recent Belgian "mockumentary" Man Bites Dog, which NBK more closely resembles (and which makes a much bolder statement about the complicity between a killer, those who film his actions, and those who watch the film). Stylistically, the comparison does hold water. Stanley Kubrick's classic, which remains as provocative today as it was 23 years ago, pushed the envelope of film language much the same way Stone's movie does. As satire, though, NBK isn't in the same league. The characters, particularly Tommy Lee Jones (admittedly hilarious) as a grotesque prison warden, are so frantically cartoonish that each horrific event lies at a safe remove from us. The movie is set on Bizarro World, its inhabitants and visuals so overheated, so overwrought, so over-everything, that nothing in it relates to us directly. It's a howling vortex of a movie, and staring into a vortex can be mindlessly enthralling until you realize you are looking into an infinite loop of emptiness: A vortex has a vacuum at its center. That's Natural Born Killers.

The movie comes at you and comes at you; it leaves you with nothing except sore eyes and a numbed brain. Yet I left the theater raving about it -- when I was eventually able to speak -- so I guess I'd better justify that now. This has not been a summer for daring films (what summer ever is?), and I've spent the last several months departing most every movie with a boring certainty of what I thought of it. Come home, write the review, forget about it. (Recently I was a little surprised to remember that I had in fact seen Maverick.) Natural Born Killers won't vacate my memory any time soon. The movie annihilates itself, but what gorgeous suicidal sparks it sends off! For two hours, Stone pelts you with images that are sickening, beautiful, nonsensical, lucid, offensive, soothing, sometimes all at once. Inevitably, some images stick faster than others. A recurring shot of a headless bloody body rising slowly from a chair has stayed with me longer than I want it to, but I had to think a minute to recall its context (ah, yes, Mickey's dad shotgunned himself).

No sane moviegoer would want a steady diet of films like this, but its ferocious abrasiveness is precisely what makes it perversely refreshing. If you can dissociate yourself from the brutality, this is a hell of a ride; and yet that same dissociation produces apathy and even contempt for the suffering people on the screen. No two ways about it: Natural Born Killers is not a moral work. But I've sat through many moral films that weren't half this vivid; the movie has a writhing, ugly life unlike anything I've seen before. The troubling question: Do audiences respond so readily to the violence Stone does to conventional narrative form, or to the violence Mickey and Mallory do to their randomly selected and mostly undeserving prey? To see the movie in a packed house, sitting with excitable teenagers, can be more disquieting than the movie itself: The film carries a whiff of danger, which spreads through the audience like a virus. In more ways than one, I was relieved to get out.

When Oliver Stone isn't busy mauling "the media," a sprightly side comes out. Mallory, flashing back on her first meeting with Mickey, remembers it as a sitcom -- "I Love Mallory" -- with Rodney Dangerfield (perfectly cast) as Mallory's repulsive, sexually abusive father. Complete with a laugh track and a burst of applause when Mickey enters, the scene is the funniest thing in the movie, but the laughter sticks in one's throat, as Stone probably means it to. But is Stone also saying that sitcoms contribute to our spiritual cancer by presenting unrealistic candy-views of loving families? Has Stone seen Married...with Children or Roseanne, two of the most popular and durable sitcoms on the air? I also liked Mickey's complaining about violent movies ("Don't anybody kiss any more?") while clips from Midnight Express and Scarface, scripted by guess who, play on TV -- signalling that Stone is willing to take at least some of his own abuse. (The joke is funnier if you know that these two films represent opposite tacks in the art-influences-life debate: Midnight Express was touted -- falsely, as it turned out -- as having greased the wheels for more humane treatment of prisoners in Turkish jails, while Scarface has provided a role model for countless real-life gangsters.)

But in the end, Stone spares himself. Unlike Man Bites Dog, NBK sprays little venom at those who made the movie or those who pay to see it. The target is safely "them" -- "those people" who produce or watch "those tabloid shows." (Ah, so television is the fountain of evil -- not movies or music or video games? Oliver Stone, meet Marshall McLuhan.) If that's the target, why not get into the subject of why many Americans, made fearful and paranoid by the brutal worldview presented by tabloid TV, go out and buy guns, therefore becoming part of the problem? Oliver Stone's best work has been muckraking take-no-prisoners stuff like Salvador; if any moviemaker has a tabloid sensibility, he does. Unless I'm mistaken, Natural Born Killers, beneath its dark jocularity, is Stone's self-hating projection onto our society. We're not seeing what's in Mickey and Mallory's heads -- we're seeing what's in Oliver Stone's head. Who else put it on the screen? Perhaps Stone, who's described the making of NBK as "more fun" than anything else he's directed, was reluctant to piss too much on his own parade. The fearless, confrontational muckraker backs away from confronting himself.

For my part, I'm ready to give considerable slack to any filmmaker who takes me somewhere I haven't been. Whether good or bad (and there've been a few bad), all of Oliver Stone's movies are passports to someplace hostile, strange, brutally rejuvenating. He is the Sin Eater of Hollywood, turning his heart black to absolve us of our guilt; nobody elected him, but nobody else is doing it. Thematically, and in many other ways, NBK is juvenile unless this is your first satire or your first road movie. Stylistically, though, it's a new, scary critter far outside the usual film menagerie. Your response to it depends on what means more to you.

Content and form matter equally to me, and so I end as I began: I'm torn. 'Natural Born Killers' is both awesome and exasperating. So is a lot of outright trash; so is a lot of great art.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=761&reviewer=416
originally posted: 12/29/06 22:46:32
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User Comments

1/09/18 Kaede My favorite movie. 5 stars
9/14/17 morris campbell used to be cool now its lame 1 stars
3/12/16 The Iron Pope I liked it as a teenager but watching it again as a grown up I see it for what it is. Crap 1 stars
5/01/15 stanley welles great, dazzling and wickedly funny 4 stars
10/21/11 Eric S. See the problem is you have to pull your head out of your ass, to see the screen 5 stars
2/16/10 86masters Absolutely pathetic! 1 stars
11/22/09 Jeff Wilder Entertaining albeit overedited. Focus more on the story next time Mr. Stone. 4 stars
10/19/09 Viv I felt like my eyes had been raped. Unnecessarily violent, pathetic attempt at a 'message' 1 stars
10/05/09 Justin Zeigler My favorite movie and I know movies. If you like transformers movie you are to dumb it 5 stars
4/08/09 Dane Youssef Too much style over substance. Stone focuses too much on his FX, not enough on simple story 3 stars
1/26/09 Shaun Wallner Kept me on the edge of the seat! 5 stars
1/20/09 Stefan One of the worst films EVER made. 1 stars
5/31/08 jointz Oliver Stone needs to look up "subtlety" and "restraint" in the dictionary. 1 stars
5/04/08 P Keenan a cinematic masterpiece, by the genius Oliver Stone. The best film of the 1990's 5 stars
1/15/08 God The people who hate this film are either cowards or guilt ridden. 5 stars
5/26/07 Christina Nothing compares. This is, hands down, the greatest film I've ever seen. 5 stars
3/27/07 fools♫gold Well, any movie that includes a Nine Inch Nails song MUST be a thoughtful masterwork. 5 stars
3/25/07 Eric R What a waste of celluloid. One of the worst films ever. 1 stars
12/30/06 Bitchflaps A complete waste of time, could have been written by a 10 year old. Wretched film. 1 stars
11/30/06 David Pollastrini very psychedelic 5 stars
11/16/06 JM Synth A Fascinating Misfire. All Sound and Fury in aid of the same old media satire 3 stars
10/03/06 Jeremy Davies Gross, but entertaining 4 stars
11/02/05 Zedd The bad guys win. They have brains.They do it for a reason. Like in real life. The truth. 5 stars
9/19/05 John it becomes what it seeks to critizice - gartuitous nonsense 1 stars
8/19/05 ES 'He was my bear claw' priceless = movie ok 3 stars
8/07/05 Winkie Good movie. (Its called Dope Hat, dammit!) 4 stars
6/17/05 Marcia Gay Soften Even editing out Ashley Judd couldn't save this mess! 1 stars
6/12/05 Agent Sands My personal favorite of Oliver Stone's movies, and one of my favorite Tarantinos. 5 stars
6/07/05 Indrid Cold A ferocious, audacious satire. Stunning, but too scattershot to have much impact. 4 stars
5/29/05 Jake Sick, twisted, disgusting, and most of all...brilliant! 5 stars
5/24/05 The shizz It was ok, could have been way better it say....tarantino directed it????? 5 stars
3/22/05 Richard Pryor interesting movie. woody harrelson rocks 4 stars
3/02/05 marianna please remove my posts from this message board a mistake i'm sorry. 4 stars
12/28/04 Jenna Furr An extra star just because Ashley Judd was edited out of it. 2 stars
12/26/04 mjoc Mindless, senseless violence with no story. Bad stuff! 1 stars
12/23/04 iliija Pavlovich, PhD outstanding cinematic achievment 5 stars
12/06/04 Kurt Cobain Hard movie to talk about, but a good movie with a message for the most part... 4 stars
11/15/04 Jarrod this movie is almost like a shakespearean romance..u have love and murder,ponder that 4 stars
10/09/04 jmb the idea that Man Bites Dog has little explicit violence is totally wrong 4 stars
10/02/04 Daveman Well done Anthony G, you aptly represent this films fanbase as a bunch of boneheads. 1 stars
9/01/04 adolfo very good movie 5 stars
8/14/04 Anthony G eat dick dave 4 stars
7/02/04 Daveman An utterly worthless, pretentious sadistic piece of shit. 1 stars
6/18/04 Matt Cordell It only gets awesome at the prison breakout. It takes the movie in a different direction. 3 stars
4/28/04 Mallory Knox It is Fate, you can't stop fate 5 stars
4/16/04 Michael Greenwaldt An awful, overrated, pretentious piece of crap! One of the worst of all time! 1 stars
4/12/04 Feliciano The greatest antihero couple and the greatest representation of this corrupted century!!!! 5 stars
3/30/04 antipathy It's not hypocrisy, it's satire . . . 5 stars
3/06/04 mickey i love this movie this motherfucker is suckin his own cock 5 stars
3/04/04 Monster W. Kung One of the worst movies ever made. 1 stars
2/25/04 Wanda Dilbeck cold bloodly 2 stars
2/03/04 Jan I've seen the Director's Cut and was blown away. Thanks to Oliver and to Quentin, you rock! 5 stars
12/25/03 Graham A. Howarth absolutely awesome 5 stars
11/27/03 John the road to hell is paved with good intentions (and great cinematography in this case) 2 stars
10/29/03 tediboy amateur-styled exploitation movie for people high on drugs..! weird but watchable 3 stars
10/23/03 emma phizackerley brilliant 5 stars
10/10/03 Jens-Christian Jensen It's not funny. It's not exiting. It just made me sick. I don't like paying to get sick. 1 stars
9/29/03 Jade, fan of Mick and Mallory This isn't a film, its a preminition.. 5 stars
9/14/03 Sauron The best film i've ever seen! 5 stars
9/02/03 Natasha I thought it was well done, very artistic, creative, fun 4 stars
8/31/03 Senem brilliant!!it makes one sempathise with evil characters by using supreme degree of violance 5 stars
8/17/03 bobby d this movie rules 5 stars
8/09/03 Psilly Tri(:P this movie da fucking shit ya hear 5 stars
8/09/03 Geo78665 The first half is nearly a waste, but the second half is really good. 3 stars
7/17/03 AD not that great 3 stars
7/11/03 Indrid Cold A brilliantly ferocious satire of all-American shallowness and bloodlust. 4 stars
6/19/03 Vince Watch it again you fucks. 4 stars
4/25/03 hello this movie sucks mmm i will kiss Oliver Stone's ass for he is smarter than me, a simpleton, and i am amazed 1 stars
2/01/03 Monster W. Kung Unwatchable crap. 'Oh-so-surreal' headache-inducing visuals, lobotomized 'message'. Awful. 1 stars
1/30/03 Erica that movie is the worst fucking movie i have ever see in my whole life... fucking horrible! 1 stars
1/19/03 Film Liker Absolute worst; deplorable. Everybody involved in the making and writing should be put down 1 stars
12/28/02 Jack Sommersby An overdirected, bombastic debacle. 1 of the worst. 1 stars
10/14/02 Charles Tatum Yes, Oliver, you are so dangerous... 3 stars
9/29/02 Laura Morales Awesome as a nihilistic, visceral, and darkly hilarious EXPLOITATION flick! 5 stars
9/25/02 Morally Sound It is required you see this movie at least TWO times! 5 stars
9/03/02 Joe Zappa I watched it again and really it's an important and really good movie! 5 stars
7/27/02 sdjfsdkjf deplorable. Everybody in the making and writing should be put down except Tarantino. 1 stars
6/01/02 Renee Keener Tasteless, incongrous clash of shock sensationalism and ludicrous travesty. 1 stars
4/15/02 joe shit 1 stars
3/21/02 Mr. Hat (I'm Back!) If they'd have stuck with QT's original script, it wouldn't have been so annoying & stupid! 1 stars
3/13/02 Alex One of the worst movies I've ever seen. A visceral flick with satirical pretense. 1 stars
3/01/02 Unagiboy The worst movie I've ever seen. It talks down to the audience. 1 stars
1/10/02 Iain Anglin Mister Rabbit says a moment of realization, is worth a thousands prayers. Brilliant 5 stars
12/12/01 slappy jacks i will kill anyone who dares dislike this film =) 5 stars
12/08/01 Andrew Carden Harrelson Is Cast-Typed, The Plot Is Lame, and The Screenplay Is Forgettable. 2 stars
12/05/01 john linton roberson Oliver Stone should've stopped here.Misunderstood live-action cartoon. 5 stars
11/09/01 Iain Anglin Natural Born Killers is one of the best films ever made 5 stars
9/03/01 the Grinch Ophie's right...ya seen this one once, ya seen it enough. 3 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk Regardless of the heat that's come down on this film, it's one of a kind...amazing. 5 stars
7/14/01 sarah overly pretentious, but then again its oliver stone. 4 stars
5/11/01 Chris The best movie in the history of cinema - perfect message, directing , editing 5 stars
4/01/01 Jesse L Like watching a car wreck... 2 stars
3/26/01 BART it was eccentric 3 stars
3/11/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) Visually dizzying, loved Mallory's home-life montage, but I didn't care for it as a whole 3 stars
2/14/01 Chris Rice It is one of the best movies I have ever seen 5 stars
1/16/01 The Terminator Wasn't what I expected, it was better 5 stars
12/30/00 Msitrab This film cannot be put into words 5 stars
11/29/00 dave(clubwraith@aol.com) kick ass 5 stars
11/28/00 The Evil Penguin Very weird in every way 2 stars
11/22/00 Stephan Pot Awesome 5 stars
10/28/00 steven hargreaves What a fucked up film. I wanted to kill someone after this. BRILLIANT 5 stars
10/23/00 JC23 Very misunderstood, I thought it was very good 5 stars
10/09/00 Xessus A very interesting movie - highly reccommended to those who can handle the content. 5 stars
9/20/00 Bruce A true cinematic experience, no where near as bad as people said. 5 stars
6/12/00 DAVID Ive never ever really liked Oliver Stone 2 stars
3/05/00 Kyle Broflovski What a bunch of fucking dreck. Even the brilliant actors can't save this slop. 2 stars
1/03/00 Paul Frantic, mesmerising, cutting brilliance 5 stars
10/07/99 sophia962 POMO angst and isn't the world a foul sty. Oh kiss my ass and go away Oliver, no one cares 1 stars
10/03/99 Freaked Looks of action, but look for subtext too 5 stars
6/16/99 J-Dogg The Perfect Film -- exciting, energetic, and gory. The critics misunderstood this one. 5 stars
5/12/99 ras_jose@yahoo.com oliver stone may be the most demented major director alive.this movie is awful. 1 stars
5/07/99 Scott this is one of my favorite movies of all time! definetely worth a look 5 stars
5/04/99 Big Dog The worst movie ever made, what a sick fuck 1 stars
1/10/99 twisted barbie a true love story 5 stars
12/05/98 tj a movie that wants to be big and important but simply isn't 2 stars
11/26/98 G A very complex movie. See it more than once and really watch 5 stars
11/26/98 Mr.Pink Stone's best film. A hallucinating, apocalyptic and visual nightmare... 5 stars
11/25/98 Fred It's a satire of the 1990's! Wake the fuck up and smell the maple nut crunch! 5 stars
11/18/98 MinxxDaShorty How sexy am I now flirty boy!!!! I'd watch this film just for Juilliette, but I love it all 5 stars
11/12/98 Jules Went from Crazy Wild Fresh -> Typical, Slow, and Stupid.... What a waste. 3 stars
10/28/98 Silent Rob A multi-sense pummeling extravaganza. See it with some one you love! 5 stars
10/23/98 grunter pushes the envelope hard; visceral, balls-out joyride; misinterpreted masterpiece 5 stars
9/15/98 Lonatic Oliver Stone is a sick idiot! What a waste of film!! 1 stars
9/08/98 Young Einstein it had it's moments, but it was too MTV like. 4 stars
9/07/98 Damien This movie rocked, a classic to me, long live Oliver Stone 5 stars
9/04/98 Badass A wonderful satire. 5 stars
9/01/98 J-Guy trendy junk. I hated this shit. should have watched something good instead. 2 stars
8/29/98 Miss Stress had nightmares for days. 4 stars
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  26-Aug-1994 (R)


  06-Oct-1994 (R)

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