July 9, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Natural Born Killers

Title: Natural Born Killers
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Sizemore, and Tommy Lee Jones
Director: Oliver Stone
Released: Warner Bros. (1994)
Genre: Action; Drama

It was just one of those strange coincidences that Natural Born Killers would air on television one weekend when I had another Woody Harrelson movie waiting to be watched on DVD (Defendor). It was like a cosmic reminder that no matter what "Woody from 'Cheers'" has done in his cinematic career, including his most recent award nominated performance in The Messenger, nothing has topped the performance he gave in this surreal film about a pair of lovers turned mass murderers.

Seeing this film again also reminded me that Woody Harrelson is following a similar path to Jeff Bridges, in that he's gradually amassing an impressive list of movies he's starred in. And like Jeff Bridges, Harrelson doesn't seem to be preoccupied with his public persona, and isn't too high on himself to turn down some eclectic roles. I mean, here's a guy that saw fit to appear in 2012, one of the most shamelessly bad movies I've seen in years.

One thing about watching this movie and the exploits of Micky and Mallory is that, even after all these years since its release, I still found it disturbing visually. I'm not talking necessarily about the blood and snippets of graphic violence, because when you really pay attention to the film, the depiction of violence isn't done to any exorbitant level compared to other films. But the tone and the psychedelic vibe that permeates through so much of the film, added upon the cast of truly repellent characters, managed to deliver a very unsettling feeling to me.

Rodney Dangerfield's role as Mallory's abusive father, fittingly portrayed within a sitcom atmosphere replete with canned laughter, was a particularly unnerving moment in the film. That may be in part because Juliette Lewis, despite a violent introduction at the start of the film, gives off such a tortured performance of spoiled innocence, you can't help but hate Dangerfield's character.

Maybe that's what makes this movie stand out for me: the onslaught of one deplorable character after another acting as antagonists for Micky and Mallory. The story of their rampage is not really the focus of the story, though it easily could be--and would have been it this were a made-for-TV piece of schlock. Oliver Stone, however, uses this movie as a condemnation of modern media. And there's the kicker, because this movie was made in the mid-nineties and things have arguably degraded even further in pop culture since then. Imagine this movie hitting theaters for the first time today; it'd likely have to go even further to show the obsession with violence and debauchery saturating television sans context.

If nothing else, the movie should be seen now for the performances of the entire cast. Tom Sizemore plays a sadistic detective on the hunt for Micky and Mallory, which really hits a crescendo when he strangles a hooker named Pinky to death in a motel room. There's Tommy Lee Jones at his most manic as the prison warden bemoaning and reveling as the man between a horde of pent-up prisoners and the two most notorious killers of modern times. And then there was Robert Downey, Jr. I am unsure where in the timeline this movie relates to his hitting rock bottom with drug abuse, but the guy went for broke as the slimy TV producer and host of a show that could only be described as "America's Most Wanted" without a conscience--and the New Zealand accent really takes the cake.

While detractors of the film probably pointed at it and called it a glorification of sex and violence, I think they missed the point. This movie, to me, plainly pointed the finger at the audience and let them know that they were as culpible as any character they saw on the screen. No one is innocent in Natural Born Killers and very few are left standing when the closing credits roll. The most fitting end was made as Micky and Mallory walk off into the proverbial sunset with a television camera recording the final images.


  1. This one's on my "to-watch" list, I've been looking forward to watching it for quite some time now, but never actually got around to do it.

  2. Atrox - I sit agape as I read that you've never seen this movie. :O You simply must make it a point to see this film once, though I may be setting you up for disappointment with over-hype. But it's just so good.

    Ryan - Here here!