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An insanely over-the-top dissertation on violence, the media, the police system, and even society itself, Natural Born Killers pulled out every art-house trick in the book to become one of the most controversial films of the 90’s. It was either a work of exploitation, or it was a brilliant satire on the very exploitation it appeared to be. Love it or hate it (and there is absolutely no middle ground), there was no ignoring it.
Based on an original idea from a not-quite yet famous yet Quentin Tarantino, director Oliver Stone took this story of Mickey and Mallory (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis), serial killers in love and on the run (think Bonnie and Clyde to an extreme), and turned it into something completely unique. Alternating between every film style imaginable, the film is pure schizophrenia. Shot in just 56 days, the film took 11 months to edit, and contains around 3000 cuts. “Shot on 35mm, 16mm, 8mm and video, in black and white and in color, live action and animation,” the film literally transitions in and out of these styles within the same take. Unsettling and jarring, the viewer can’t help but be placed on edge, and pulled into this incredibly unsettling world.
I cannot emphasize enough just how disturbing this film is. It’s not just the extreme ultra-violence, nor the insanity behind these inhuman monsters, but the mirror that Stone holds up to the world. Robert Downey Jr. plays Wayne Gale, a crime show host responsible for the sensationalizing of Mickey and Mallory. He turns these hideous people into celebrities, a trick all too recognizable in our world today. As one character says early in the film, “mass murder is wrong, but if I were a mass murderer, I’d be Mickey and Mallory.” I can’t help but admire the ultimate punchline of his character. It’s so over-the-top, it must be seen to be appreciated.
This film does not follow a traditional narrative. You will come out of this movie discussing how it made you feel rather than where the plot took you. Stone calls this “the most expensive student film ever made,” and I think that’s a perfect description for this film. As I was watching, I couldn’t help but wonder how a movie like this ever got made. Personally, I’m thrilled that I got to experience the insanity of this movie, but I can definitely recognize that it is not for everybody.
Odds are, you already know whether this is a film for you. If so, the recently released Directors Cut on Blu-Ray is the way to go. This is the cut the filmmakers intended from the very beginning. With scenes excised by order of the studio and the ratings board rather than the filmmakers, the additions actually serve a purpose and bring further depth to the film. There are also a couple of documentaries illuminating Stone’s thought process behind the movie, and Charlie Rose interview with Oliver Stone. Also included is a great 44-page companion book that provides analysis of the film from various people involved, and a lot of great behind-the-scenes trivia.
I’ve now seen the movie twice, and I really don’t know if I’ll be watching it again anytime soon. It is a really uncomfortable experience. But it’s a fascinating one, and it really is a powerful film. There has never been a film quite like it, and I doubt that there will be again. If you have a strong stomach, and are looking for something very different, then I recommend this as an unsafe alternative to the usual.