Natural Born Killers

21 Mar

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Natural Born Killers is a film I have been meaning to watch for a long, long time and I can’t tell you how glad I am that I finally did. There are several reasons for why I was so keen to see it. One of the main reasons is that I knew it was Quentin Tarantino story, though I realise he had nothing to do with the direction the film eventually took, stating himself that fans of his work might not like this film. Nevertheless, the original idea is his and as something of a Tarantino fan, I needed to cross it off my ‘need-to-see’ list.

The film opens in an American diner with a man ordering some food and a woman putting the jukebox on. We learn that the pair are Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis), a married couple in the midst of a killing spree. The movie wastes no time in showing us how violent the murderous pair are. As Mallory dances alone…oh yeah…Juliette Lewis dances. If you’re a fan of pretty woman doing pretty dancing then the opening five minutes of this film are right up your street. Anyway, where was I?

Ah yes; As Mallory dances she is sexually harassed by one of a group of rednecks who have entered the diner. After briefly dancing with him, she instead decides to beat him to death. You know, as you do. As introductions go, it sets the tone perfectly.

It’s also a great introduction to the aesthetics of the film. Oliver Stone’s direction is instantly eye-catching; We go from seeing the film in colour to a short period of black and white, and then back again. We get slanted camera angles too, it’s all fairly experimental but personally I thought it was brilliant.

I also found the back-story of how Mickey and Mallory met to be brilliantly presented. We’re taken back to Mallory’s home as a young girl where we see her father being mentally and sexually abusive towards her. It’s fairly harrowing stuff, but Stone manages to add a light-hearted touch. All of the scenes depicting Mallory’s earlier years at home are presented in the style of an American sitcom, complete with a laughter-track at the most vicious and inappropriate times. It’s amusing to watch but serves to make what we’re seeing even more hard-hitting.

Stone lashes off-beat genius onto his picture throughout. There are patches where the film becomes animated for a short periods of time, there are scenes where the film is shown as if being watched on TV by lovely families from decades ago – it’s just so innovative and brilliant. One particularly striking and odd scene that stood out for me showed Mickey lying on a hotel bed flicking through TV channels. Rather than show us the TV set though, we see Mickey side on with images changing in the hotel window as he changes channel. It’s hard to describe why it’s brilliant – it just is.

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So, the direction is good, what about the acting? Quite simply, it is an all-round exceptional display of acting in a movie so well cast it’s ridiculous.

Harrelson and Knox are fantastic together. Their chemistry on screen is wonderful to watch. To see them play crazed killers so well, and yet effectively bring about an element of romance that is strangely moving is extremely impressive. Harrelson in particular progresses as the film goes on. His character and performance are excellent throughout, but he reaches his peak when he shares screen time with the magnificent Robert Downey Jr.

Downey Jr. plays obnoxious TV presenter Wayne Gale, desperate to interview the couple as their killing spree sweeps America. It’s his character that allows the film to ooze satirical genius. He is the anchoring part in a pertinent commentary on media glamourisation of murder, violence and criminals. He helps create a celebrity status for the killers, who become horribly idolised for their crimes. Downey Jr flourishes in this role – he arguably steals the show.

There must also be an honourable mention for Tommy Lee Jones as prison warden Dwight McClusky. He is instrumental as the film builds to a climax. His anger and rage are almost tangible.

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The story too is fantastic. It’s quite simple really; A married pair go on a murdering spree, but it absolutely hits the nail on the head with it’s astute satire. The film stands the test of time too; I’d suggest it is more relevant now than it was  when it was released in 1994.

My only problems with this picture were that I felt there was a short period in the middle where it started to drag a little and might have lost its way. That feeling lasted no more than ten minutes however. The other problem I had was that there is a key scene involving a snake which, having a massive phobia of the slithery buggers, made for some difficult viewing at times. But that’s just me and obviously I don’t mark the film down for that.

Natural Born Killers is, in my opinion,  a magnificent film. It’s hyper-violent, it’s always brilliant to look at, rarely dull and occasionally jaw-dropping. Stone produced a masterpiece with the help of a strong cast in extraordinary form.

9/10

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3 Responses to “Natural Born Killers”

  1. BlueWolf (@BW_MCFCforum) March 21, 2013 at 23:22 #

    The acting was superb, the direction also … the film? Well, a tad weird really. A Tarrantino movie unlike any Tarrantino movie that had gone before, or indeed after it.

    • Richard Burns March 21, 2013 at 23:53 #

      Thanks for the comment. I was pretty blown away by the whole thing. I think QT accepts that this wasn’t his film, that Stone took it in a direction QT never wanted. So I suppose that plays its part. Wonder what QT would have done with itt had he been able to direct?

      • biggreenjelly March 30, 2013 at 19:23 #

        Sat everyone round a table, saying the N-word while blood splatters the room…

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