Coming into Natural Born Killers, I associated it with horrific acts of violence like Columbine, but Oliver Stone’s uber-violent satire contains some of the most interesting and arresting visual filmmaking of the project so far. The film explodes with color, and Stone sets the camera adrift, using cocked angles to capture the madness of the narrative. Stone creates a disturbing pastiche of media genres that feels all too relevant in today’s true crime crazy culture.
For my money, the most effective portion of the film is the first half, in which Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) go on a killing spree of epic proportions. A psychedelic Bonnie and Clyde, the pair gleefully commits brutal and senseless murders to escape their tormented childhoods. Stone, though, departs from the aforementioned road movie by incorporating black-and-white cinematography, cartoons, commercials, and more to comment on the impact of media.
Hitting the screen in the era of O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers, Natural Born Killers is an obvious reflection of the mania of the time, and it partially incited the mania of our own time. The “media is to blame for the rise of violent crime” message comes off as a bit heavy handed, particularly with the film’s ending clips of Simpson, Menendez, and even Tonya Harding. Stone’s recycling of commercials, news clips, and even other films as background images, though, provides a much more sly take on his thesis.
Being familiar with Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, I didn’t expect such an experimental and striking film from Stone. I think of Oliver Stone as a straightforward, if violent, filmmaker, but Natural Born Killers challenged my understanding of his style. The melding together of various genres and formats shook up my film viewing experience in an exciting way.
With such fast pacing and relatively little plot, Natural Born Killers would fail without stellar performances. Luckily, Stone had the good fortune to secure some of the driest wits in Hollywood. Joining Harrelson and Lewis are Robert Downey, Jr., Rodney Dangerfield, Tom Sizemore, and Tommy Lee Jones (in a role more in the vein of Two-Face than some of his more serious fare). Each actor dips a toe in farce, satire, and exploitation brilliantly.
It is a shame that Natural Born Killers is demonized for the violent acts it allegedly inspired. In reality, the film condemns violence and the media frenzy that stokes further crimes and sensationalism. The few viewers who chose to twist the plot to fit their own dark sensibilities clearly missed the point and tainted the film’s legacy. However, Stone’s visuals speak for themselves and prove a challenging experience for any first-time audience member.