Natural Born Killers (1994)
January 24, 2023 9:52 AM - Subscribe

Two victims of traumatized childhoods become lovers and serial murderers irresponsibly glorified by the mass media.

Starring Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield, Edie McClurg, Jared Harris, Russell Means, Maria Pitillo, Sean Stone, Everett Quinton, O-Lan Jones, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Steven Wright, Lanny Flaherty, Richard Lineback, Kirk Baltz, Evan Handler, Saemi Nakamura, Keiko Seiko, Salvator Xuereb, Natalie Karp Emmanuel Xuereb, Balthazar Getty, Red West, Arliss Howard, Mark Harmon.

Directed by Oliver Stone. Screenplay by David Veloz, Richard Rutowski, Oliver Stone. Story by Quentin Tarantino.

48% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently available for digital rental in the US. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Middle-aged me was far, far less impressed with this than teenage me. I don't know if it just got mileage out of Harrelson and Lewis's star turns and the killer soundtrack, or if I was just bowled over by how brassy and crass it was or maybe the QT connection.

But on rewatch, this struck me as nigh-on intolerable, heavy-handed like a high school freshman's poetry notebook, and fucking ugly, both to look at and in spirit.

I haven't finished it yet. I'm going to give it a week and then finish it in the most open-minded mood I can muster, but this really felt like a piece of shit last night.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:55 AM on January 24 [18 favorites]

I paid to buy this (admittedly on sale for $4.99, but still) and I am more than open to people giving me their takes on why it's good actually, as I'd like to not feel like a dope having paid to put this in my library.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:56 AM on January 24

I haven't seen this in a long time but expect my reaction would be similar to DOT. like, this movie thought it was so clever commenting on the media glorification of ultra-violence, but really the movie is glorifying it, these killers, this utter nihilism. hmmm...
posted by supermedusa at 9:59 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]

Oh, I imagine I'd feel like DOT too if I rewatched this now. I haven't seen it since the theatrical release when everything post Pulp Fiction was Tarantino-adjacent. It's how I feel about Jim Morrison's poetry; 15 year old me was like, "oh wow, that's so deep and true," and 46 year old me is like, "oh wow, this is pretentious cake with a side of mediocre ice cream."
posted by Kitteh at 10:20 AM on January 24 [9 favorites]

The thing is, I didn't expect to hate it on rewatch. I knew it was loud and over-the-top and that I am less impressed by that at my age. But the parts I remembered were the Harrelson and Lewis performances, which are great, particularly Lewis, and the sad edges. And the parts that felt lyrical to me as a teen like "We're angels, Mickey! Angels!" feel like a D- high poem now.

But so much of it plays out as a commentary that is like "And THIS is why Inside Edition and talk shows like Geraldo Rivera are *fucked up*!" and those things don't even exist anymore. It's a heavy handed satire of things that already died. I mean, in a loose sense you can say he was satirizing the media at large, but I just watched it and he's really after tabloid shows and afternoon talk shows.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:23 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]

Yeah, this movie is a not-so-hot mess, and betrays its alleged intention to criticize media glamorization of serial killers by glamorizing them itself. It's my least favorite performance from everyone in the movie, and not coincidentally the last movie by Oliver Stone that I've seen. (I also don't think much of JFK, but at least that movie is fascinating because Jim Garrison's convoluted conspiracy theory is patently absurd, but we're clearly supposed to believe it because Kevin Costner is mouthing it.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:28 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I don't think the script gives Harrelson and Lewis a ton to work with, but I do feel like they are great.

Even in the fake sitcom I Love Mallory where her dad (played by Rodney Dangerfield, who absolutely understood the assignment) is clearly molesting her, and it's way heavy-handed, Lewis plays it well, sad even, and gets your sympathy. It's like having a stupid, terrible person act as advocate for someone you nevertheless feel sorry for.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:32 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]

Oooh. I have a fun story about this one. I was living in Seattle at the time and was offered a chance to see a sneak preview showing by some dude on the street. I'm pretty sure they told us what movie and I
young me was excited as a snobby film lover and somewhat Oliver Stone fan. The showing was at the old Broadway theater in the mall and I arrived ready for something spectacular.

Well... it was definitely a spectacle. The version we were shown was so much more brutal than what I heard was released. I never did go see the release or watch the later released directors cut, which I believe was still not as brutal as the sneak preview cut. That was when I stopped being an Oliver Stone fan.

This movie is absolute proof that critiquing a thing with an extreme version of the thing only glorifies the thing.
posted by kokaku at 10:57 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]

played by Rodney Dangerfield, who absolutely understood the assignment

Holy hell, yes he did.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:45 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]

In a world where Pulp Fiction never came out the same year, Oliver Stone might have remained film's BadBoy auteur of that era, but alas his shortcomings were never more obvious as when cast in Tarantino's shadow.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:16 PM on January 24

In a world where Pulp Fiction never came out the same year, Oliver Stone might have remained film's BadBoy auteur of that era, but alas his shortcomings were never more obvious as when cast in Tarantino's shadow.

Tarantino wrote the story for "Natural Born Killers" but had his name removed from authoring the screenplay because so much of what he wrote was changed. He was furious with Stone for that (although he apparently has never watched the film all the way through). From an interview with Brian Koppelman:

“The point of the thing is that they unnaturally live for each other at the expense of everyone else on the planet earth,”
Koppelman later says their violence is the sacrament of their love to which Tarantino agrees. Apparently Tarantino has published the original script for NBK but I haven't read it although now I am curious.

Looking at how the film actually is, this isn't the story we are presented with at all. Mickey refuses to murder on their "wedding day", for example. And further the movie ends with the murder of Wayne Gale being the last of their killing spree before they somehow become a suburban family despite being incredibly famous escaped spree killers. Mickey and Mallory are presented as victims of both the immediate environment but also "the media." Thus the murder of Wayne Gale ends their killing spree as it apparently purges their violent natures so they can love each other without murder. But the end of the film has cuts of things of various famous murder trials so the media is still out there not to mention it's hard to indict violence in the media in a film about glorified violence.

John Grisham, interestingly enough, claimed that the movie was a "defective product" that resulted in at least one copy cat murder in his essay Unnatural Killers. He insisted the way to curb Hollywood's love of violence was to go after people who make these sorts of movies the same way you go after someone who makes and sells any other dangerous product. The essay was quite popular and was included in a number of books used teach essay writing to college freshmen way back in the late 90's and early aughts. But it struck me then as it strikes me now as an extremely myopic stance for Grisham who wrote books like A Time to Kill, The Pelican Brief, and the Firm which later became films.
posted by miss-lapin at 2:06 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]

The God Bless America remake was a lot better.
posted by Rash at 4:48 PM on January 24

There was a time I really liked this one (except a lot of the second half and all of Tom Sizemore), and watched that diner scene with the jukebox many times. I haven't seen it in ages. It seems like I might be embarrassed I really liked it back then, if I watched it again. Also, I recently suggested this film to a 20-something co-worker. Maybe that was a bad suggestion. (my GOOD suggestion is Skeleton Key, but no one is interested. SO SPOOKY.)
posted by Glinn at 5:13 PM on January 24

I will say the one thing I continue to love about this movie is the soundtrack. I'll stand by that.
posted by miss-lapin at 6:00 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]

Supposedly, Oliver Stone's usual music supervisor Budd Carr wanted Bob Seger to score the film.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:49 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]

It really is a huge piece of crap, lol. I also loved it when I was a kid.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:44 AM on January 25

I never really thought about what it was supposed to mean, but was struck by the style of it. I'd been fascinated by Bill Sienkiewicz's work on Elektra: Assassin and other things, and wondered how someone might do something similar with film and this pops up, with its radical shifts in tone, veering between the cartoonish and the hyper-realistic. I've often wondered whether the resemblance was deliberate. The style is almost enough to distract me from the fact that it's essentially dumb, but not quite.
posted by Grangousier at 6:03 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]

Well, I was 30 when this came out. Not a teen. And my impression at the time was a few good scenes but overall represented all of Oliver Stone's worst excesses.

I've always thought Stone was a hack. I laughed out loud at the excruciating scene in Platoon when Dafoe is killed and he collapses in slow-motion in Christ-like pose while Samuel Barber's Adagio plays. Then there's an even more bombastic scene (difficult to believe, but true) in The Doors where I literally threw my hands up in the air in the theater in exasperation. I intended to never watch a Stone film again, though apparently I did end up watching this one.

I've always thought that the film director Saul Rubineck played in True Romance was a scathing parody of Oliver Stone from Tarantino's experience with this film, but IIRC the timing doesn't quite work. Surely it is, though.

Speaking of True Romance, I've always thought that Tony Scott and Tarantino compensated for each other's vices in that film, making something better than either alone would have managed (maybe not as art, but as a solid Hollywood movie) but that Tarantino and Stone was the opposite: the worst of both. Stone amplified the worst elements of Tarantino's story; Scott amplified the best.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:32 AM on January 27 [6 favorites]

In my early 20s when this came out, I saw it in the theater and walked out maybe halfway through, something I've only done a handful of times in my life.

I'm not particularly squeamish about violence, and it's been a few years, but I remember it was more about the hollowness of the "social critique" or satire that it was offering up (not to mention that I remember just being bored, plain and simple.) Particularly grating was the sense that Oliver Stone felt smarter than his audience, or was indicting their sensibilities.

But, no dude, you're the one filming and creating this, you don't get to sit back pointing fingers at the crowd without having a better point to make. You're wasting my time, Imma go a few theaters down the multiplex and see a better movie, thanks.
posted by jeremias at 11:33 AM on January 31

I just wanna add some context-Forrest Gump was released the same year. As someone who wore leg braces, I was so pressured into going to see that film and be ok with it I really hope people who are critical of this film take time to consider how shitty many films released that year are including FG. Because as someone who dealt with abuse at home that has not remotely been my experience.
posted by miss-lapin at 12:30 PM on January 31

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