When you walk into Natural Born Killers, you wonder what drugs the makers were taking. And maybe for a little bit you might want to partake as well, but it’s probably best to not. Regardless of one’s sobriety whilst watching Natural Born Killers, there is no denying that is both a trip and a ride, which is fair enough as much of it is a road picture. My review after the jump.
The film follows Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis); two kids in love with a taste for murder. The film starts with them running havoc over a diner, and from the get go, Stone gets a great comic sensibility, with the deaths exaggerated to Looney Tunes sensibilities, but like someone who has experienced death up close, he seems unable to romanticize what they’re doing, his director’s eye makes you also feel queasy in partaking. It’s a great sequence for that, and in it you can hear a line or two that seems leftover from Quentin Tarantino’s original script (which was completely rewritten by David Veloz, Stone and Richard Rutkowski).
From there the credits kick in, and Oliver Stone unleashes a montage that suggests the ride you’re in for. Back projection, strange images, discordant soundtrack, blood. He then gives us the back-story of how these characters met, fell in love and decided to kill her parents (Rodney Dangerfield, Edie McClurg). They continue their road trip, chased in some capacity by Detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore) but when they kill an Indian, they end up bitten by snakes and arrested at a drug store. They end up in jail and media darlings, where Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.) plans to interview them. The warden (Tommy Lee Jones, looking like a cartoon character) is a touch nervous, but also loves publicity so he lets it happen, and that’s when the murderous duo plan for their escape.
With Wayne Gale, Stone gets to target the bad media at the time, and in its way it feels dated. Though tabloid journalism is still not exactly awesome, it’s mostly moved to the internet in a lot of ways, and it’s become normalized. Either you care about The Apprentice, American Idol (all of which seems mostly harmless), nip slips or not at all. You have to care about Amy Winehouse or Paris Hilton even a little to be involved with that, and they’re so easy to ignore. While the pundit class is now the bane of media’s existence. It’s arguable that television has gotten stupider, but only if you watch it, and there’s so much media, it’s not like there’s the singular voice there once might be felt. Stone’s attack on the place of celebrity killers, and the vaunting of such stories into the mainstream seems a solid enough target, but it too seems dated. Yes, people romanticize killers like John Wayne Gacy and Charles Manson, but that fascination is not much a part of pop culture, so much as certain events do end up becoming the focus of the media’s attention for terrible reasons (we recently went through it with Balloon Boy, but those reading this review in a year might not even remember such events). People are fascinated with scandalous and remarkable stories, and it’s bad journalism, but it also speaks where America was in the early 90’s, with the fall of communism and no real great enemy on the horizon. It may have been the machine to rage against at the time, but now complaining about it seems a bit trivial. To that, there’s a certain relief.
But Natural Born Killers survives because Oliver Stone’s craft is so amazing here. He’s throwing everything at the screen, and it doesn’t all jell, but how the film blends video with 8mm and 16mm to 35mm, the aforementioned back projection, with Robert Richardson’s immaculate lighting, this film is just hard to turn away from. And the switch in stocks makes certain sequences come so very alive. Watching it, you can trace the cinematographer’s fingerprints to a later film he shot, like Kill Bill. There’s a strong visual signature here, and Stone’s work with Richardson has proved to be his most endearing. The film ends up sending mixed messages, but as a visual piece it’s impossible to deny.
Warner Brothers presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) for a second time on Blu-ray, this time in the director’s cut. That means it’s a little more violent. The film comes in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, and the soundtrack is as involving as the picture. And as for the transfer, the visuals are rendered perfectly. Extras include material that’s been around since the laserdisc box set, including Stone’s commentary, which is solid stuff. He also provides a newly recorded introduction (4 min.). There’s a modern set of interviews with Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Oliver Stone, and Tila Tequila among others called “NBK Evolution: How Would It All Go Down Now?” that reflects on the new digital age. “Chaos Rising: The Storm Around Natural Born Killers” (27 min.) is from the laserdisc, and is a more direct making of, with producer Jane Hamsher telling an amazing story about driving in the middle of the desert while on shrooms, and Robert Downey Jr. looking unfortunately gaunt. It gets most of the primary cast and Robert Richardson to talk about the film, and everyone is a little surprised with the end result. There’s also a period Charlie Rose interview (12 min.). Also on the disc are seven deleted scenes with commentary by Stone and an alternate ending (27 min.). Everything was wisely trimmed. Wrapping up the disc is the film’s theatrical trailer.