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USA 1994
Directed by
Oliver Stone
121 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Natural Born Killers (Director's Cut)

Audiences will probably either love or hate Oliver Stone’s characteristically hyperbolic media-satire-cum-exploitation film that both celebrates and criticizes screen violence as entertainment with no particular preference either way and even dabbles in Nietzschean posturing about the metaphysical significance of real violence. 

Based on a story by Quentin Tarantino who apparently was not happy with the film, Natural Born Killers opens with a scene reminiscent of the “Honey Bunny’ opening of Pulp Fiction (which was released the same year) which introduces us to Mickey and Mallory (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) two thrill-killers who become tabloid celebrities thanks in particular to a television show called 'American Maniacs' specializing in serial killers and hosted by Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr. for no apparent reason sporting an Australian accent). The pair are eventually caught but this doesn’t stop the mayhem.

As is his wont, Stone throws a barrage of visual effects, at times creating a Lynchian nightmare effect but mostly just creating a sense of freneticism as Mickey and Mallory are pursued by a twisted cop, Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), and Gale, both of whom are out to exploit the couple for their own career purposes.

Although the satirical agenda has potential, Stone, who is known for his serious-minded approach to social and political issues in films such as Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) seems to have no interest in developing it in any cogent way.  Mickey and Mallory are no Bonnie and Clyde or even Holly and Kit from Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1974).  Their acts appear to be driven solely by their dysfunctional childhoods with sexual abuse having occurred in both cases, not by any desire for media recognition and whilst Gale is happy to use them to win ratings, even getting caught up in their worldview, this is as far as the satire goes, which over the length of the film, round and round. 

All this is over-larded with the embellishments of animations and a mini-sitcom featuring Rodney Dangerfield as perverted paterfamilias, different film formats, distorting lenses, extensive back projection, and virtually anything else available to trick out proceedings while the entire cast overacts, most notably Tommy Lee Jones as a cartoon-like prison warden.

Yes, some people will be initially impressed the meretricious visuals and perhaps find a frisson of black comedy in the film’s excessiveness but Stone's willingness to settle for cheap potshots in place of a developed argument robs the film of its efficacy.




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