Natural Born Killers (1994)

Rating: B+

Dir: Oliver Stone
Star: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Sizemore

While it’s impossible to believe this film was once considered a threat to civilization as we know it, a decade on, it still packs a wallop. If anything, the subsequent explosion of “reality” TV (quotes used advisedly), lends an eerily-prophetic angle to the excesses of American Maniacs, the show hosted by Downey’s tabloid TV journalist who tracks Mickey and Mallory (Harrelson + Lewis) on their multiply-murderous spree, on into jail, and out again. It’s a brutal indictment of murder as entertainment, even if it’s hypocritical beyond words, because it surfs on exactly the same prurient interests it condemns. And what is Stone’s viewpoint?

At one point Mickey condemns Hollywood, bemoaning the fact that no-one kisses any more, a sharp stab at those who say the media causes violence. Yet our “heroes” are later lit with a ghostly sign that labels them as the product of too much TV. Is Stone really claiming innocence for cinema, while blaming the square box? Or is that more satire? It’s hard to tell where sarcasm stops, and genuine opinion begins. But while it savages the hand that feeds it, at least the movie has a philosophy, which lifts it up above much of the output of Hollywood.

Hard to say how much of the bite is due to Quentin Tarantino’s draft script; given his all-but-disowning of the movie, most of the credit (or blame) would seem to be Stone’s, even if QT turned around and swiped many of the stylistic techniques for Kill Bill. There’s no doubt Stone does go over the top – let’s throw in another Dutch angle! No: make that another looming demon! – it all adds to the lurid comic-book sensibilities. The actors mostly hold on and go for the ride, with the characters two-dimensional at best, save for Mickey and Mallory who are the only characters to show any positive emotions. And that may be the most subversive element of all: at heart, this is a love story.