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Natural Born Killers

video review out of 4

*Also starring: Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Edie McClurg, Rodney Dangerfield, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Rachel Ticotin, Denis Leary, Steven Wright

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Dragan Antulov review follows video review
2.  Jerry Saravia read the review ---

Review by Dragan Antulov
½ star out of 4

There are probably many ways to classify connoisseurs of modern cinema. One of them is to divide them into two very distinct camps - those who worship Oliver Stone's 1994 film NATURAL BORN KILLERS as the ultimate cinematic masterpiece of its time and those who think of it as nothing more than celluloid equivalent of an horse manure on hot desert road. The author of this review usually avoids extreme opinions and tries to reach middle ground whenever possible. However, in the case of NATURAL BORN KILLERS such efforts were fruitless. I was forced to take one of those extreme stands and I took the latter one.

There are many reasons why my dislike of NATURAL BORN KILLERS takes dimensions beyond those reserved for usual Hollywood stinkers. One of them is the fact that Oliver Stone used all two hours of this film as an opportunity to show the world that he could master all visual techniques of filmmaking. This demonstration includes use of both colour and black-and-white photography, 35mm and Super 8, various film stock, slow-motion, fast-motion, all possible camera angles and all possible ways camera can record light. Unfortunately, rapid editing is also part of this demonstration and the ultimate impression comes in the form of nausea for many unfortunate souls who were introduced to NATURAL BORN KILLERS in theatres (same effect is less visible among those viewers, who were wise to watch this film on video, in much safer environment of their own homes).

Of course, some of Stone's supporters claim that the aforementioned nausea was the aim of this film. This nausea was supposed to be the only way for Oliver Stone to deliver his Message to masses, who would miss it in the hands of more conventional director. This Message, however, was supposed to come from the original script by Quentin Tarantino - dark satire about American media obsession with crime and violence. Unfortunately, this script came to the hands of Oliver Stone and two of his co-writers - Danny Veloz and Richard Rutowsky. Their treatment of Tarantino's text was probably equal to the way Jack the Ripper had treated London women, so Tarantino disowned his screenplay.

The protagonists of this film are two outcasts - Mickey Knox (played by Woody Harrelson) and his girlfriend Mallory Wilson (played by Juliette Lewis). Starting with Mallory's abusing father Ed (played by Rodney Dangerfield) two of them engage in the series of random killings. Since they always leave a witness after their killing sprees and since they always take credit for the murders, this pair of serial killers is turned into media celebrities. They are equally hounded by psychopathic lawman Jack Scagnetti (played by Tom Sizemore) and scruples TV show host Wayne Gale (played by Robert Downey Jr.). Their capture and trial is not the end of their killing spree nor of media madness - Wayne Gale is coming to prison, run by sadistic warden Dwight McClusky (played by Tommy Lee Jones) in order to make exclusive TV interview with Mickey that would lead to the new cycle of violence.

If we are to believe Oliver Stone and many of the critics who hailed this work as masterpiece, NATURAL BORN KILLERS was supposed to be something like a wake-up call to America, celluloid protest against media-induced national obsession with crime and violence, condemnation of the culture that turns psychopathic killers into heroes of popular culture. Unfortunately, Stone's film, despite the intentions of the author, turned into something quite different. Unable to resist his urges to turn this film into his life-long personal crusade against Establishment, and lacking any sense of subtlety, Stone watered down his original intentions by redirecting his anger and unleashing his creative demons on too many targets at once - media, law enforcement, family, society and civilisation in general. In the end, this film totally misses the point and turns into the exact thing Stone wanted to criticise - by showing Mickey and Mallory as heroes, romantic rebels whose loves transcends traditional morality, Stone glamorises violence, murder and all the most virulent forms of sociopathic behaviour.

The last and most sinister aspect of NATURAL BORN KILLERS revealed itself to the author of this review in real life. Few years ago I witnessed rather unpleasant scene involving certain menacing but obviously drugged-out individual who was trying to intimidate persons around them by publicly proclaiming his love for NATURAL BORN KILLERS. This little incident corresponded with series of media reports about real life acts of violence being inspired by NATURAL BORN KILLERS (or, to be more precise, their perpetrators trying to diminish their own responsibility by putting all the blame on Stone's work). And all those reports, hyped out of proportions (like Columbine massacre and alleged MATRIX influence), can serve certain political agendas - agendas that manifest themselves in strengthened censorship, suspension of individual rights and other measures that would increase power of the same institutions Stone tried to attack in his film. When this happens, failure of NATURAL BORN KILLERS would be complete.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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