By Brian Finamore @Movie_Fin
Natural Born Killers - Released on August 26, 1994 by Warner Brothers. Directed by Oliver Stone. Produced by Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher. Screenplay by Oliver Stone, Dave Veloz, Richard Rutowski. Story by Quentin Tarantino. Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Sizemore, and Tommy Lee Jones, with Rodney Dangerfield. Cinematography: Robert Richardson. 119 Minutes. Rated R (Director's Cut Unrated). Budget: 34 million. Grossed: $ 61,615, 296.
"In its own way, Natural Born Killers is ultimately a very optimistic film about the future. It's about freedom, and the ability of every human being to get it." - Oliver Stone
"Stone's sensibility is white-hot and personal. As much as he'd like us to believe that his camera is turned outward on the culture, it's vividly clear that he can't resist turning it inward on himself. This wouldn't be so troublesome if Stone didn't confuse the public and the private." - Hal Hinson, Washington Post
"Flashy, loathsome, and utterly empty." - Ken Hanke, Mountain Express
"Made in the style of an MTV video...Natural Born Killers is exactly the kind of bullying, mindless assault that Stone excoriates the media for perpetrating." - Stephen Farber, Movieline
"The Best Film of the 1990's!" - Entertainment Weekly
"Brilliant. Two Thumbs Way Up" - Siskel and Ebert
"Seeing this movie once is not enough. The first time is for the visceral experience, the second time is for the meaning." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
"Oliver Stone does an amazing job behind the camera, and the editing is totally delirious: it's one of the most visually dazzling films I've ever seen." - Kevin Laforest, Montreal Film Journal
My Thoughts on the Film...
One of the most talked about and controversial films of all time, Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers is perhaps the director's most misunderstood and best film (despite the polarizing reaction evidenced above). Made at the height of his powers in 1994, the film is an all out assault satire against the American media and our culture in general that is obsessed with murder and television. This film is the 1990's. It is about the media and the public, the way that they both work together to elevate these killers to the level of hero, much in the same way as the public is continually fascinated with tragic events such as the O.J. Simpson trial, the Menendez trial, the Manson case, etc. The public has a constant need for seeing violence and blood - it fascinates them. The media, desperate to make a story that it actually is, feeds into that need - and yes, this is a problem - think about the O.J. case - the two innocent victims of that case, Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, were all but completely forgotten - Johnnie Cochran and the O.J. defense team turned the trial into a circus, as did the media.
The sad thing is, 20 years removed from the film, our society hasn't changed one bit and has actually gotten worse. I wonder how much bigger Mickey and Mallory would have been these days with the advent of social media and constant news coverage. The great thing about the film's message is that it can and I believe always will apply to the way society is obsessed with violence and fame.
When you look at our world today with the advent of social media and instant news and analysis, Mickey and Mallory Knox would be even bigger in today’s society than they are portrayed in the film. There’s a thousand people like Robert Downey Jr.’s Wayne Gale today then in 1994. Mickey and Mallory would have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Instagram feeds, and various other websites. So my point is when you look at the themes Oliver Stone is trying to explore in this film, they apply even more to today’s world. That’s the hallmark of a great film, even if Stone’s film feels particularly 90’s, we can relate in today’s world how big Mickey and Mallory would be.
I Love Mallory
Themes and Motifs of Natural Born Killers
Natural Born Killers is shot and edited in a frenzied and psychedelic style consisting of black and white, animation, and other unusual color schemes, and employing a wide range of camera angles, filters, lenses and special effects. Much of the film is told via parodies of television shows, including a scene (I Love Mallory, SEE CLIP ABOVE) presented in the style of a sitcom about a dysfunctional family. Commercials which were commonly on the air at the time of the film's release make brief, intermittent appearances. In his DVD Director's commentary, Oliver Stone goes into great detail about the look of the film, explaining scene by scene why a particular look was chosen for a particular scene. Stone considered Natural Born Killers his road film, specifically naming Bonnie and Clyde as a source of inspiration. The famous death scene in Bonnie and Clyde used innovative editing techniques provided by multiple cameras shot from different angles at different speeds; this sporadic interchange between fast-paced and slow-motion editing that concludes Arthur Penn's film is used throughout the entirety of Natural Born Killers.
Furthermore, both films fall under the road movie genre through their constant challenges of the society in which the characters live. While Bonnie and Clyde attempt to disintegrate the weakened economic and social landscape of the 1930s, Mickey and Mallory try to free America from the overarching conventions which influence the common masses, primarily the media. However, whilst Bonnie and Clyde concludes with a pessimistic outlook regarding individual freedom within the American sphere of influence, Oliver Stone sees Natural Born Killers as having an optimistic finale. In Bonnie and Clyde, the police's ambush of the couple exhibits the empirical control of law enforcement over the individual.
Natural Born Killers, however, ends with the couple symbolically destroying the mass media, as represented by Wayne Gale, and successfully fleeing together to live a relatively "normal" life. As Stone himself says, "In its own way, Natural Born Killers is ultimately a very optimistic film about the future. It's about freedom, and the ability of every human being to get it.”
Another theme that aligns with the way the film is structured and edited is that of the demon. Stone cuts away to characters in the film drenched in blood, looking at us in the audience and screaming. Stone's intent is that the demon lives in all of us and that really there isn't much difference between the films principal characters. Tom Sizemore's Scagnetti has his own demons, as does Robert Downey Jr.'s Wayne Gale, and Tommy Lee Jones's Warden Dwight McClusky. As shown in the films best sequence below, an interview Wayne Gale has with Mickey after the Super Bowl, the demon lives in all of us. Wayne Gale isn't really interested in finding out who Mickey is, he just wants something interesting to happen so that the interview gets great ratings. Wayne Gale could very well be real life Geraldo Rivera or Bill O'Reilly. Gale is supposed to be "normal" compared to Mickey but Mickey proves to be smarter and more enlightened.
"Who's innocent Wayne? Are you innocent?"
Of course, America being the country we live in, there were copycat murders apparently inspired by the film. Author John Grisham took it upon himself to try and take Stone to court and have him take responsibility for the film’s copycat crimes. However Mr. Grisham himself has often been the same subject of controversy, especially in his novel A Time to Kill, which has been criticized by many for Grisham’s highlighting of KKK crimes. Ultimately, no charges were made against Stone or the filmmakers. For more on this, a great essay by writer/filmmaker Jason O’Brien http://oscarworld.net/ostone/default.asp?PageId=3 (Below is a segment featuring Jason O'Brien about the John Grisham/Oliver Stone feud)
The film is a tour de force of directing by Oliver Stone and the various ways in which he shoots the film are so seamless, yet thrilling. The film is like a piece of jazz music, there’s very much a rhythm and dance to the way Stone edited and made his 90’s films. Stone doesn’t just want you to watch his films, he wants you to experience them. Some people have wrongly said this film celebrates the MTV style editing that so dilute any of the films meaning. The various styles are meant to represent the overwhelming style in which our own television networks present news to us. Often stories come and go and there is no time for analysis or perspective. This is even more true in today’s world, where instant information is not only available but demanded. The film has it’s champions to be sure, Entertainment Weekly named it the Best Film of the 90’s, and Roger Ebert notably gave it a laudatory review. The film is somewhat of a cult classic by today’s standards but it’s still bashed and derided by the same people as it was in the 90’s. What these people missed, if they even watched the film, is that this is one of the most scathing and brilliant satires ever committed to celluloid. Natural Born Killers will always live on as the themes it presents get constantly worse in our society.
Memorable Scenes and Images From NBK
The start of the Prison Riot. Stone uses montage and various film stock. He cuts back and forth between the riot and 50's stock footage of American families gathering around the television watching together. This is what our culture has become.
A Deleted Scene from the Unrated DVD/Blu Ray of NBK featuring a great Dennis Leary going on a rant about what's wrong with this country. Stone couldn't find a natural place for it in the film but it's fantastic none the less.
Article by BRIAN FINAMORE