Click the poster to see more evidence
against Oliver Stone -- including an excerpt from Quentin Tarantino's original script that
Stone didn't want you to see!
Directed by Oliver Stone. Screenplay by Tom Schulman.
Cinematography by Robert Richardson.
Music by Trent Renzor.
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Juliettte Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy
Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Russell Means, Rodney Dangerfield, Edie McClurg, Steven Wright,
Joe Grifasi, James Gammon, Pruit Taylor Vince, Balthazar Getty, Dale Dye.
Rated: R -- violence and stupidity.
The Big Lie
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Natural Born Killers is the most
brain-dead and cowardly film I've seen in a very long time. It's not that it doesn't have
the courage of its convictions; it just doesn't have any convictions. Instead, it's just a
barf-bag of derivative MTV imagery spiked with a heavy dose of cheap irony.
|Natural Born Killers
By Jim Emerson
Anybody can see that Oliver
Stone's Natural Born Killers is a pretty pathetic spectacle, displaying all the
hallmarks of Stone at his worst: bombast, sensationalism, overkill and a propensity to
just throw up anything on the screen and see if it sticks. Stone is an articulate advocate
for his films, but he he's a lot better in print than he is on the screen. He doesn't seem
to put nearly as much thought into actually making his movies as he does into promoting
them in interviews.
So, if Natural Born Killers has become "the
most controversial movie of the year" or "the most talked about movie of the
season" or "the most argued-about movie of the month," it's not because it
makes any sort of bold political, sociological or aesthetic statement. People "love
it or hate it" because it's a movie that puts them through a disagreeable experience,
stirring up a lot of unpleasant feelings, for no good reason other than to get some sort
of visceral, Pavlovian reaction from them. Far from being a "daring" movie on
any level, Natural Born Killers is the most brain-dead and cowardly film I've seen
in a very long time. It's not that it doesn't have the courage of its convictions; it just
doesn't have any convictions. Instead, it's just a barf-bag of derivative MTV imagery
spiked with a heavy dose of cheap irony.
What you come away with after seeing Natural Born Killers (besides a headache, if you neglect to
take drugs beforehand) is... well, not much. The movie's packed full of cheap and largely
meaningless pop-culture references (Leave It to Beaver, Nixon's resignation ), lots
of ultra-violence and, of course, shabby allusions to the Bobbit, Menendez,
Kerrigan-Harding and O.J. Simpson cases. It's all sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Stone has called his movie a satire, but it's missing the one crucial ingredient of
satire: a point of view. In the end, the only idea in the movie is Stone's assertion that
tabloid TV reporters are a lower form of humanity than mass killers. That may be a
provocative (if morally questionable) position to take, but it's just thrown out there;
the movie doesn't even try to back it up. When killers Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and
Mallory (Juliette Lewis) execute the Hard Copy-style sleazebag reporter (Robert Downey
Jr., in the movie's best performance) at the end and then ride off into the sunset, you
don't feel the movie's really trying to say anything. It's just leaving the door open for
Stone has also said that Natural Born Killers is a condemnation of the way our
crazy culture, and the media in particular, glorify and exploit violence (some ads use the
laughably hypocritical line: "The Media Made them Superstars!"). Just one
problem: This movie does exactly the same thing it pretends to be criticizing --
and gets off on it. Stone wants to have it both ways -- to condemn violence and its
exploitation, and to acknowledge that it's fun to groove on that violence after all. In
1969, Stanley Kubrick tried to show the same sort of thing in A Clockwork Orange,
just one of the movies NBK (as Stone and company have taken to calling it) wishes
it were, along with Terence Malick's Badlands, Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde
and David Lynch's Wild at Heart. But Kubrick's film, whatever its other faults,
captured that ambivalence and communicated it to the audience; it got you to feel sorry
for a pathetic monster but never urged you to applaud his cruelty.
NBK, like Hard Copy itself, cheaply
sentimentalizes, romanticizes and glorifies its moronic
killers so that the audience cheers them on in their murder spree -- whether they're
attacking a waitress in a roadside diner or one of the cardboard villains the movie sets
up as their opposition: the sadistic cop (Tom Sizemore), the crazy prison warden (Tommy
Lee Jones, in a performance that's an inbred cousin to his role in JFK) and
Downey's tabloid-TV scumpot.
I've talked to friends who have said they "liked" NBK, but none of
them could tell me why, or tell me what they thought the movie was trying to accomplish.
To them it was a big-screen video game (Doom in widescreen!) -- no more, no less.
They said they just got off on the bombardment of sensations that the movie offers. (One
of my own favorite recurring images is that of a headless, blood-drenched man in his
underwear sitting on a bed in what looks like a motel room. I have no idea what it's doing
in the movie, but it keeps popping up and, if it had been used in some context, it could
really have been potent and creepy. After a while I decided it was a metaphor for the
movie itself: a bloody apparition with nothing happening above the neck.) I think that's
the test of people's response to NBK: If you just want to groove on the gory ride,
you'll probably "like" it; if you bother to ask what the movie's up to, you
realize it's just a stupid, cliché-filled mess.
Let's take, for example, the much-talked-about scene where Mickey and Mallory recall their first meeting
in the form of a perverted sitcom called I Love Mallory, which isn't really that
far removed from Married...With Children. It's a brilliant device, for about 15
seconds. But it goes on and on. Rodney Dangerfield plays Mallory's abusive father, a
sweaty, filthy creature who wanders around in his boxers and terrorizes his family with
physical and sexual abuse to the accompaniment of a hollow laugh track.
The scene recalls David Rabe's horrifyingly funny play, Sticks and Bones, where
Vietnam was given the Ozzie & Harriet treatment. Like Rabe, Stone (who, with
collaborators, completely re-wrote Quentin Tarantino's original script) seems to be making
a point about how television trivializes everything, how it masks real pain with
saccharine plots and a laugh track. Put anything in the form of a sitcom and people will
laugh -- or at least zone out and stare at it.
Then Mickey and Mallory kill Mallory's parents, stuffing dad's head into the fish tank
and setting mom on fire in her bed. The movie's visceral message is: These people deserve
to die -- dad because of what he did and mom because she didn't try to stop him. But is
anything else going on here? Is the film pulling the old
"blame-the-parents-for-the-sins-of-the-children" routine and saying this is the
reason Mickey and Mallory turned out to be indiscriminate murderers? Does this excuse
their behavior in any way? Well, I don't think NBK has any idea of what it's trying
to suggest, other than to give you the kooky spectacle of patricide and matricide rendered
in the style of MTV Sports. (Y'know, the kids, they love this stuff. It's hip,
right?) Stone seems to be trying so hard to be "hip" and
"cutting-edge" here, that it's embarrassing. He obtained the rights to Quentin
Tarantino's early, original script (trying to borrow some "hip" credentials from
a hot younger director, perhaps?) -- and then wiped out all the satirical and humorous
material that gave the movie context, point of view, and a reason to exist. (Tarantino,
who sold the rights to the script to a friend for a dollar -- only to have that friend
re-sell it to Stone and company -- is furious with the way Stone has manhandled it and has
publicly disowned the "Stoned" version. You can read some of the stuff Stone
took out by clicking
NBK's much-vaunted hyper-kinetic
"style" conveys the appropriate psychological
instability and image-overload. But then it just repeats itself relentlessly for two
interminable hours. Yeah, we get it, already. The visual tools Stone evokes are already
old and tired: Here are the same tilted camera angles, shaky hand-held camerawork, grainy
black-and-white, 16-mm blow-ups and quick cuts you've gotten sick of on everything from The
Real World to every vapid, "Gen-X"-targeted commercial on television. At one
point, a slide is projected over Mickey and Mallory that says: "Too much TV."
I'm not sure if that's a statement about them or of the movie's flat and repetitive
In interviews, Stone has been attempting to sell NBK as a comedy, but the jokes are so
lame and the targets so easy that it's difficult to laugh much. A "black comedy"
has to take a few risks, but this one pretty much stays at the "Aren't tabloid
reporters idiots?" level. Well, duh.
The funniest and most revealing moment in the whole movie comes early on, when a young
Mickey and Mallory "fan" is interviewed. He's like a frat boy at a football game
(Stone wants us to see the parallels between this guy and the folks who cheered on O.J.
Simpson during the slow-speed Bronco freeway "chase"), and his zeal is just as
mindless. Then a serious wrinkle creases his brow as he tries to explain that, well, he
doesn't actually approve of mass murder or anything, but "If I were a mass killer,
I'd be Mickey and Mallory."
The movie should have stopped right there. That's a great punchline, and it makes all
the rest of Natural Born Killers superfluous.
The Big Lie
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