Not as good as Manson, but it’s hard to beat the king. Academy Award nominees Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey, Jr. and Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones star in Oscar winning director Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.
Cast of Characters:
Mickey Knox – Woody Harrelson
Mallory Wilson-Knox – Juliette Lewis
Wayne Gale – Robert Downey, Jr.
Warden Dwight McClusky – Tommy Lee Jones
Det. Jack Scagnetti – Tom Sizemore
Ed Wilson – Rodney Dangerfield
Navajo Man – Russell Means
Deputy Warden Kavanaugh – Pruitt Taylor Vince
Director – Oliver Stone
Screenplay – David Veloz, Richard Rutowski & Oliver Stone
Producer – Jane Hamsher, Don Murphy & Clayton Townsend
Rated R for extreme violence and graphic carnage, for shocking images, and for strong language and sexuality
Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) are a young couple, united by the bonds of marriage and their bloodlust for murder. After embarking on a record-breaking killing spree, the two have become sensationalized by the media, particularly newsman Wayne Gale (Robert Downey, Jr.) who’s looking to interview the two for his show American Maniacs.
Once captured by the police and sent to confinement under Warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones), Gale sets up a plan for a Super Bowl interview that will hopefully send his show’s ratings through the roof.
Based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers is one of the most controversial films of the past 25 years. Of course, Stone mixes with subtlety as well as oil and water, but even for his standards, this film stands as one of his most, maybe even the most, divisive, dividing critics and audiences alike into thinking it was one his worst (they clearly haven’t seen Alexander) or one of his best.
It’s understandable why half of the opinions are off-put by this. Stone had to appeal the initial NC-17 rating five times and cut back some of the film’s violence before the MPAA granted it an R rating. Between the violence, Hank Corwin and Brian Berdan’s frenetic editing and Robert Richardson’s hyperactive, psychedelic cinematography, this is quite the visceral experience. But underneath the over-the-top antics, there’s something brilliant at play here.
With the Waco Siege, the Menendez Brothers trial and Nancy Kerrigan/Tanya Harding behind it and the O. J. Simpson trial just around the corner, Natural Born Killers was a movie released at just the right time that struck a nerve instantly with everyone that saw it. What Stone has put together is a scathing, unrelenting satire of how the media has glamorized crime and deified murderers and we as a society eat that shit up like a bunch of braindead Jerry Springer junkies chanting, “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” This isn’t really about violence more than it is our reaction to it. From the crazed fans to the bloodthirsty newsman to the foaming at the mouth lawman hoping to be the famed one that brings Mickey and Mallory down, everyone wants in on the three-ring circus.
One line in the movie says it all: “Don’t get me wrong; I don’t condone mass murder… but if I could be a mass murderer… I’d wanna be Mickey and Mallory.”
One of Stone’s most clever satirical touches is presenting the obligatory psycho-trauma backstory of Mallory in the form of a demented sitcom (featuring a creepy turn from Rodney Dangerfield as Mallory’s perverted and abusive father). There’s some hideous stuff going on in those few scenes, but do we care? Nope, ’cause we as a culture just wanna keep feeding our obsessions, so cue the laugh track. We’re the criminals’ live studio audience, after all.
Even today, with the trials of Casey Anthony, Robert Blake, Scott Peterson and Phil Spector, this film holds much relevance.
Both Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis are perfectly cast as the two lovestruck serial killers. What makes them so chilling and frightening isn’t exactly their killing spree, it’s their amoral indifference to it. Mickey and Mallory know the difference between right and wrong; they just don’t care about it. In Mickey’s mind, as he calmly states to media personality Wayne Gale, murder is pure and an act of it between two humans is no different than one animal hunting down another. It’s his cold, calm, matter-of-fact demeanor that makes him truly terrifying, although it’s hard to decide if Mickey and Mallory’s “fans”, and the cult of personality they’ve ascribed to the two, are as terrifying or even more.
The second half of the film focuses on the media’s perspective with Robert Downey, Jr. giving one of the best performances of his career as the Australian version of Geraldo Rivera, Wayne Gale. Speaking like Robin Leach and sporting a doo much like Geraldo’s, Downey, Jr. is eccentric and wired to the max, as if he gets off to these serial killer cases like a hit of speed to the point he could care less what the outcome is (there’s a conversation Mickey has with Gale on which other serial killer profiles he beat in the ratings that’s both funny and a good hard jab at the ratings obsessed media). Between him and Tommy Lee Jones’s sadistic warden, who makes Shawshank’s warden look like Barney Fife, the two nearly steal the show out from under Harrelson and Lewis’s leads.
Not so much aggressive in its violence as it is in its tone and attitude, Natural Born Killers is a fast-paced, morbid nightmare that deservedly ranks up there with Platoon, JFK and Born on the Fourth of July as one of Oliver Stone’s best films. Understated is certainly a word Stone is unfamiliar with, but this is a go-for-broke style like we’ve never seen from him before. The killers presented here are sadistic and disturbing, but what’s more unsettling is that this film has more to say about us watching these killers from the comfort of our own homes than it does the killers themselves.