Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Natural Born Killers

Directed by Oliver Stone, Natural Born Killers is the story of a two lovers who become mass murderers as they are glorified by the mass media as a TV show host hopes to exploit them during their prison stay. Screenplay from Stone, Dave Veloz, and Richard Rutowski from an original story by Quentin Tarantino, the film is an exploration into the world of violence showcased through a media hungry for violence in a culture obsessed with serial killers and mass murders. Starring Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Sizemore, and Tommy Lee Jones. Natural Born Killers is an insane yet exhilarating film from Oliver Stone.

Serial killers Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) are on a trip around the American Southwest as they’re on a killing spree. Spurred by traumatic childhood events and living in troubled homes, the two meet one day as they fall in love and later kill Mallory’s parents. Following them in their road of terror is TV journalist Wayne Gale whose TV show American Maniacs has made them cult heroes. Also after them is a psychopathic detective named Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore) who has been obsessed with Mallory. While lost in the desert, Mickey and Mallory meet up with a Navajo Indian named Warren Red Cloud (Russell Means) and his grandson (Jeremiah Bitsui) who is aware of the demons the two carries.

During a ceremony where Mickey and Mallory are asleep, Mickey has a nightmare where he wakes up and accidentally kills Red Cloud. Guilty over what happened and bitten by snakes, Mickey and Mallory try to get some snakebite antidote where they’re suddenly captured by Scagnetti and police officers as it’s captured by a Japanese news crew. One year later, Mickey and Mallory at Batonga Penitentiary run by Warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones) who had put them in different cells as they’re both set to be transferred to a mental hospital. Wayne Gale is also at the prison to set up a TV interview with Mickey for his show while McClusky and Scagnetti are conspiring to kill them during the transfer.

On the night of Wayne Gale’s interview with Mickey Knox where Mickey reveals his reasons for being a killer as a riot is incited and all hell breaks loose. Gale and his crew capture the riots as Mickey hopes to retrieve Mallory who is being visited by Scagnetti as lots of mayhem occur. With McClusky trying to subdue control, it all leads to a showdown between Mickey, Mallory, and Wayne Gale against McClusky and his guards as it’s presented live on TV.

The film is essentially the story of a young couple who become serial killers as they’re being exploited by a TV journalist who wants to give the public an appetite for chaos and mayhem. Eventually, things come to ahead in prison where the couple deal with a psychotic detective, a crazed warden, and the TV journalist as it leads to all sorts of things in a prison riot. The film is really more of an exploration into how the media is willing to exploit death just for the sake of ratings with no sense of remorse for anyone including the killers themselves. It is a satirical reflection of what was happening in the 1990s when sensational TV became part of the norm as the public become obsessed with serial killers and courtroom television.

The screenplay by Oliver Stone, Dave Veloz, and Richard Rutowski is essentially multi-layered as it doesn’t exactly play to a conventional narrative structure. The film opens with Mickey and Mallory at a diner and later killing a few people in the process just to establish what kind of people they are. While they maybe killers who are deeply in love with each other, they do have some sense of compassion and will always leave someone alive to tell the story. Plus, they’re people who come from very unhappy homes as Mickey is abused by his father and watched his father die. Mallory comes from a family where her father (Rodney Dangerfield) molests her and a mother (Edie McClurg) who doesn’t really do anything. Both Mickey and Mallory kill as they’re both trying to deal with ill of the world as they’re also carrying demons around them.

The moment they meet Warren Red Cloud becomes a key plot point where they meet someone who knows what they’re about as he offers them shelter and a chance to be free from their demons but an accident will have them carry the guilt of killing someone who was really a good person. This moment would become the catalyst for their downfall as the film is sort of told in a non-linear fashion where the reports about their killings are shown through Wayne Gale’s TV show. Wayne Gale is a very important character to the film as he’s a man that represents the media as a whole. Here is someone who is willing to exploit the world of serial killing on his TV show as he finds Mickey and Mallory Knox as the perfect patsies for what he needs in his quest for big ratings. Gale is a character that is slightly over-the-top as he definitely becomes a lot crazier in the third act.

Then there’s characters like Jack Scagnetti and Dwight McClusky who are men who definitely despise serial killers. Scagnetti is a detective whose mother was killed by Charles Whitman as he has a very sick obsession towards Mallory. McClusky is a man that simply likes to maintain control in his prison and doesn’t really care who he has in his prison as he treats them like animals with no sense of remorse or compassion. For Mickey and Mallory, McClusky and Scagnetti are just people that represent true evil while Wayne Gale is also another manifestation of evil in something that isn’t even manmade.

Stone’s direction is definitely hyper-stylized and extravagant as he goes all-out with the film. The overall presentation isn’t meant to be realistic but rather surrealistic as it features scenes with film screen backdrops to create a road movie of sorts that is far removed from reality. There’s also lots of moments in locations set in Southwest America where they are in a real world but it feels very abstract as Stone would often create moments where the camera work is off and he puts in strange visual tricks. The sequence where Mickey meets Mallory for the first time is presented in a farcical TV sitcom as it would also include bits of strange hand-drawn animated sequences. Since the film is also a satire on the media’s sensational reporting on killing, Stone would create scenes that is presented in a documentary-like fashion where TV is king as people often celebrate the antics of Mickey and Mallory.

While Stone does manage to keep things a bit straightforward in the third act, he definitely goes all-out and more for the film’s climatic riot. Particularly as he aims for a cinema verite style where he uses TV cameras and such to capture what is going on. The violence throughout the film is graphic and unsettling (much more so in its unrated director’s cut) as Stone amps it up in the riot where there’s more people killed and the violence is almost uncontrollable. The film’s ending definitely reveals how much the world was obsessed with violence and chaos as it’s a moment where Stone taking a shot at the exploitation of violence. Overall, Stone creates a truly dazzling yet provocative film that explores the world of media and its fascination with serial killers.

Cinematographer Robert Richardson does incredible work with the cinematography where he infuses all sorts of visual styles from grainy camera work, flashy lighting schemes, black-and-white, and other array of lighting styles to play up the surreal world that Stone wanted. Editors Hank Corwin and Brian Berdan do amazing work with the editing by going into an array of various cutting styles from jump-cuts, dissolves, and other methods to maintain something that is unconventional in its approach to pacing. Production designer Victor Kempster, along with art directors Alan Tomkins and Margery Zweizig and set decorator Merideth Boswell, does brilliant work with the sets from the backdrops that are created to some of the sets such as the supermarket that Mickey and Mallory go to find some snake antidote.

Costume designer Richard Hornhung does terrific work with the costumes from the stylish clothes that Mickey and Mallory wear in their road trip to the bloody convict suits they wear during the riot. Sound editors Wylie Stateman and Michael D. Wilhoit, along with sound designers Scott Michael Gershin and David Kneupper, do superb work with the sound to capture the chaos of the prison as well as the moments in the locations the characters encounter.

Music supervisor Budd Carr creates a truly dazzling music soundtrack in collaboration with its producer Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Along with some music from NIN including the song Burn, the soundtrack features an array of music from Leonard Cohen, L7, Patti Smith, Jane’s Addiction, Dr. Dre, Tha Dogg Pound, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan, Cowboy Junkies, Duane Eddy, Peter Gabriel and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Lard, and other artists in a collage of pieces. Additional contributions that isn’t in the album soundtrack includes Marilyn Manson, Rage Against the Machine, the Specials, the Shangri-Las, and a few others as it’s definitely one of the great film soundtracks of the 1990s.

The casting by Risa Bramon Garcia, Billy Hopkins, and Heidi Levitt is fantastic for the ensemble that is created. In some small but notable appearances, there’s Adrien Brody as a cameraman, Arliss Howard as a mysterious convict, James Gammon as a redneck at the diner, Mark Harmon and Corey Everson as TV actors playing Mickey and Mallory, O-Lan Jones as a diner waitress, Steven Wright as a criminal psychiatrist that Gale interviews, and Balthazar Getty as a gas station attendant who has sex with Mallory. Other noteworthy small roles include Pruitt Taylor Vince, Joe Grifasi, and Louis Lombardi as prison guards, Sean Stone as Mallory’s little brother Kevin, Jeremiah Bitsui as the Indian’s grandson, Edie McClurg as Mallory’s mother, and Rodney Dangerfield in a shocking performance as Mallory’s abusive father.

Russell Means is excellent in a small but crucial role as the Navajo Indian that Mickey and Mallory meet who would become the one person that they see is the personification of everything that is good. Tom Sizemore is great as the psychotic detective Jack Scagnetti who has a sick obsession with killers as he hopes to become a legend in killing Mickey and Mallory. Tommy Lee Jones is superb as the cartoonish Warden Dwight McClusky where Jones brings an intensity to a madman who hates Mickey and Mallory where he tries to be this terrifying authority figure. Robert Downey Jr. is amazing as Wayne Gale where Downey sports an Australian accent as a man just hell-bent on getting the story of a lifetime where he gets more than he bargains for.

Finally, there’s the duo of Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in their respective roles as Mickey and Mallory Knox. Harrelson provides a cool yet darkly-humor approach to his character as well as a charisma that is just intoxicating to watch. Lewis is more angelic in her persona but also far more aggressive as she too brings some humor to her character. Together, they make one hell of a combo as they radiate chemistry when they’re in love or when they’re fighting as they make Mickey and Mallory Knox some of the coolest characters on film.

Natural Born Killers is a sick, twisted, extravagant, and ugly film from Oliver Stone yet it’s a whole lot of fun to watch. Thanks to some amazing technical work, a kick-ass soundtrack, and outstanding performances from Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, and Tom Sizemore. It’s truly a film that really captures the insanity of 1990s-media obsession with murder. It’s also a film that isn’t for the faint of heart as well as something that shouldn’t be taken seriously. In the end, Natural Born Killers is a fucked-up yet sensational wild ride from Oliver Stone.

Oliver Stone Films: (Seizure) - (The Hand) - (Salvador) - (Platoon) - (Wall Street) - (Talk Radio) - (Born on the 4th of July) - (The Doors) - (JFK) - (Heaven & Earth) - (Nixon) - (U Turn) - (Any Given Sunday) - (Persona Non Grata) - (Comandante) - (Looking for Fidel) - (Alexander) - (World Trade Center) - (W.) - (South of the Border) - (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) - (Savages (2012 film)) - (Snowden)

Related: Natural Born Killers OST

© thevoid99 2012

1 comment:

s. said...

Oh I love this movie, one of my all time favorites. So glad you mentioned Sizemore, Jones and RDJ they are so great and hilarious in the film. Harrelson and Lewis were just unforgettable here and I loved their chemistry.