'Natural Born Killers' glamorizes violence instead of fighting it
In "Year of the Dragon," which Oliver Stone wrote, Mickey Rourke utters this classic piece of dialogue: "I give a shit and I'm going to make you give a shit." This is what Oliver Stone is about. He makes movies that make people care. In Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, he made us feel concerned about Vietnam. In JFK, he made us look at the death of our philandering, commie-hating 35th President. And in "Natural Born Killers," his newest film, he confronts us with the media exploitation of violence.
The personification of this trend is Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.), the Australian Geraldoesque host of American Maniacs, a tabloid magazine show about serial killers. Gale gets a jailhouse interview with Mickey and Mallory Knox, a pair of charismatic serial killers who were captured after a bloody killing spree. The first two-thirds of the film shows that killing spree in gruesome detail and is exactly where the flaws in the film lay. There is something incredibly hypocritical about decrying the glamorization of violence while spending the entire film actually glamorizing violence.
"Natural Born Killers" may be the most violent film ever made. There is nothing wrong with movie violence itself, but this film is the equivalent of a preacher speaking out against sin with a prostitute waiting outside.
The reprehensible violence and hypocrisy are not the only flaws in "Natural Born Killers," however. There are plot holes so big you can drive a truck through them. And the usually excellent Tommy Lee Jones overacts to such an extent that it does not seem possible that he believed he was actually acting.
Despite these problems, you cannot call "Natural Born Killers" a bad film. "Abraxas, Defender of the Galaxy" with Jesse "The Body" Ventura was a bad film. There were parts of "Natural Born Killers" that were truly excellent. Stone used a very unique visual style incorporating black and white, slow motion, colored lights and animation. The entire film looks like Stone edited it on peyote. However, this style does not interfere with the narrative, and makes the film truly memorable.
There are also some truly excellent performances. Woody Harrelson gave his best performance as the charismatic Mickey (although genetics may have helped; his father, Charles, is a notorious hitman). The always excellent Tom Sizemore plays sleazy super-cop Jack Scagnetti perfectly, and is the only actor who does not ham it up to some degree. And, Rodney Dangerfield plays Mallory's incestuous father in a flashback staged as a sitcom, complete with laugh track. Dangerfield is simultaneously hilarious and grotesque in the only funny part of the film.
That may be the fatal flaw in "Natural Born Killers." Stone has reiterated that the film is a satire; however, it is not particularly funny. Stone, who is not funny, rewrote a script by Quentin Tarrentino, who is. If the film had been funnier, it might have worked. However, it just came across as an innovative snuff film.