In Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers”, beauty is true ugliness and brutality is normal and accepted behavior. This is the world of Mickey and Mallory, two itinerate mass murderers with horrific pasts turned into superstars by the tabloid press. A funny satire on American culture that’s difficult to laugh at, “Killers” is a scathing indictment on the bottom feeding media this country embraces.
Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) are deeply in love and deeply crazy to a spectacular degree. You would be hard pressed to find someone that’s met them and escaped unscathed (or alive for that matter). Embarking on a traveling crime spree that results in a few dozen murders, robbery, and rape, the duo are captured by a fame-hungry detective and turned into worldwide media darlings. But their imprisonment doesn’t diminish their fame, and the media’s interest in the deranged pair soon backfires.
Woody Harrelson (“The Thin Red Line”) and Juliette Lewis (“Old School”) are revelations as Mickey and Mallory, portraying two people devoted to each other but have complete disregard for everyone else on the planet. They may act crazy, but they know exactly what they are doing and truly don’t care. Robert Downey Jr. (“Gothika”) is also amazing as Wayne Gale, the tabloid news reporter most responsible for bringing the pair to America’s attention. His British accent is totally unaffected and convincing, as is his performance as a reporter trawling for stories of the lowest common denominator.
The supporting cast is exceptional, with Tommy Lee Jones (“The Hunted”) as the prison warden; sporting a bad suit, bad haircut and a Texas accent so good you’d think he lived his whole life in Houston. Jones’ warden has utter contempt for his charges, which probably results in his violent demise. Rodney Dangerfield and Edie McClurg play Mallory’s abusive parents, and their scenes are done in a surreal sitcom format that mocks and emphasizes Mallory’s revolting surroundings. Mark Harmon is also effective as Mickey’s tabloid double, exaggerating the crimes yet still conveying how senseless they are. And Tom Sizemore (“Saving Private Ryan”) is believable as the fame-seeking Detective who uses his job to further his own ambitions.
The film moves along at a quick pace under the able direction of superstar director Oliver Stone (“Platoon”). The director emphasizes his views on American culture using lighting, editing, inserted scenes, and black and white film stock to drive home his message. The script is based on a story by Quentin Tarantino (who has since disowned it) and is blood soaked, but slyly funny and as entertaining as it is insightful. In a way, it has correctly predicted a society addicted to reality TV and other aimless pursuits.
The only real flaw in the film is not the amount of victims (over 50 in all), but the choice of who dies. Some victims are just innocent bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time, killed for the sake of killing. It’s hard to find any sympathy for the bloodthirsty couple when they gun down people just going on with their lives, although the randomness of their deaths was probably the intention of the film’s creators.
“Natural Born Killers” has been demonized and criticized, but it’s also received the praise it deserves. The director’s cut restores over four minutes that were deleted in order to achieve an R rating. Those gelded footages emphasizes the brutality of what’s taking place onscreen, as well as restoring the original doom ending for Mickey and Mallory. While four minutes may not seem like much, its restoration makes the film more visceral and shocking, as well as ending the film on a more apt note. If anyone sees this film for the first time, this is the version they should be exposed to, as Stone intended.
Oliver Stone (director) / Quentin Tarantino, David Veloz, Richard Rutowski, Oliver Stone (screenplay)
CAST: Woody Harrelson …. Mickey Knox
Juliette Lewis …. Mallory Knox
Ed White …. Pinball Cowboy
Richard Lineback …. Sonny