In celebration of its 15th Anniversary and because the distribution of the director’s cut reverted back to Warner Brothers, a new release of Natural Born Killers is now available. Based on a story from Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone tells the tale of serial killers Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) as a way to comment on problems with 1990s American society, such as violence, the justice system and the media.
The tone is set immediately as the couple is introduced in a diner that quickly explodes into an orgy of violence, so over the top it is cartoonish, as is the frenetic way the scene is shot, constantly shifting perspectives and formats. It should be immediately obvious with its black humor that Natural Born Killers is a satire. Tragically, not everyone has comprehended this and a few have used it to excuse their deadly actions, unwittingly proving some of the film’s points.
Natural Born Killers is also a love story. We see the characters Mickey and Mallory meet, and after he escapes jail, Mickey, who suffered emotional damage as a young child, helps Mallory escape her father’s abuse. The two head out into the world, making their own rules of right and wrong as they go. In turn, the world can’t get enough of their exploits thanks in part to journalist Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.), host/producer/director of American Maniacs.
Mickey and Mallory are eventually captured, tried, and sent to jail. After a year passes, they are declared insane and are to be transported to a mental hospital. This doesn’t sit well with Warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones) and he plans with Detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), a psychopath himself, to have the couple killed. Meanwhile, Gale sets up a jailhouse interview with Mickey to take place after the Super Bowl. It enflames the other prisoners and a riot breaks out. The ensuing chaos provides opportunities for Mickey and Mallory’s escape as well as their death.
Natural Born Killers is an amazing, visceral overload. Cinematographer Robert Richardson and his team do a brilliant job bringing Stone’s, at times hallucinogenic, vision to the screen. The sound and music departments are fantastic in the way they use music and blend pieces together to evoke moods. If you enjoy the film, you have to get the Trent Reznor-supervised soundtrack. High marks also go to the actors who fully commit to their roles.
This Warner Brothers release offers a new introduction by Stone who states this is the “final version.” There's about three to four minutes added to the theatrical version. He also delivers a very informative commentary track revealing his intentions, his symbolism, and the reasoning behind the stylistic choices. It’s a great listen for fans of the film and the art of filmmaking.
There is also a second disc of special features. “NBK Evolution: How Would It All Go Down Now?” (22 min) starts out talking about the film and then looks at how the characters might be affected by the current state of the Internet and its social-networking aspects. “Chaos Rising: The Storm Around Natural Born Killers” (26 min) is a piece created in 1996. The title indicates it’s going to deal with the controversy the film generated, but that’s given very short shrift at the end. It’s more of a making-of feature with Stone, the cast, and producer Jane Hamsher.
Stone features predominantly in the remaining features. There are six Deleted Scenes (21 min) with an option to view them with his commentary; an Alternate Ending (5 min), which isn’t any better than the original with an introduction by him; and he is the sole guest during a Charlie Rose Interview (12 min).
Natural Born Killers is a near masterpiece but it suffers greatly from Stone’s heavy-handedness as he drives his message home. In the climatic scene, the characters annoyingly state the obvious rather than talk naturally and it is a disappointment. Yet, even with its flaws, the film gets so much right that I highly recommend the experience for those not put off by sex and violence.