Natural Born Killers

Review by Gary Couzens

In the words of another movie, they're young, they're in love and they kill people. They're Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis), and they're on the run with a trail of bodies in their wake.

Based on an original script by Quentin Tarantino, but rewritten by Stone and two other writers (Tarantino gets story credit only), Natural Born Killers takes a slim lovers-on-the-lam plot (c.f. Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, and Tarantino’s own script for True Romance) and transforms it into an all-American, multimedia horror show, laced with satire at its most bludgeoning. From a stylistic point of view it’s the most avant-garde Hollywood movie for about twenty-five years: Stone cuts 35mm colour and black and white, video and Super 8mm, found footage and deliberately artificial rear-projection, and even (in a flashback to Mallory’s abusive family life) parody TV sitcom. This has a jarring, dislocating effect and constantly reminds us we’re watching a movie. As violence goes it’s if anything rather tame. This may have something to do with the American censor, who demanded 150 cuts – the BBFC has not censored the film any further, and let’s face it, were they ever going to ban a $40 million major-studio production? If gore’s your thing, look elsewhere: you should find the overlong La Reine Margot and the downright tedious Killing Zoe more to your liking. But it’s as message-monger that Natural Born Killers falls down badly. Stone has always been a visually strong director, but his characteristic mode of communication is to shout at the top of his voice. Mickey and Mallory are children of the media, he says, and it’s the media which makes them heroes – and he goes on to belabour this point for two long hours. Also the cast seem to be in different films: Harrelson’s Mickey is a study in cool, while Juliette Lewis makes Mallory a convincing portrait of deep-rooted anguish (probably due largely to Lewis’s contribution – Stone has a notable blind-spot regarding writing female characters and directing actresses). Elsewhere there are over-the-top turns from Tommy Lee Jones as a prison warden and Robert Downey Jr. as the sleazy host of the TV show American Maniacs. Many people will see this film for various reasons – and there are good ones for seeing it, if only once – but it’s a wearing experience.

Directed by Oliver Stone.

This review was originally published in 1995, in the March/April issue of the BFS Newsletter (#19.2).