Natural Born Killers (1994) Blind Spot Review

Natural Born Killers (1994)

Directed by Oliver Stone

Story by Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
A satirical black comedy crime film that tells the story of two victims of traumatic childhoods who became lovers and mass murderers, and are irresponsibly glorified by the mass media.

My Opinion:

Here we are with movie number three of my 2016 Blind Spot picks. I can’t believe I’ve actually managed to review one each month so far! (the previous two were An Education & Summer Wars). Other than The Doors & Platoon, I can’t say I’ve really liked any Oliver Stone films all that much so I went into this one with fairly low expectations. Plus, I’ve never exactly loved either Woody Harrelson or Juliette Lewis. Well, I have to say that I liked this one quite a bit and both those actors have gone up a little in my estimation (22 years later!).

I suppose it helps that Quentin Tarantino wrote the story? He wasn’t involved with the actual screenplay (I read that they changed his story quite a lot) but this movie has the overall vibe of the films he directed – not just in the extreme violence, of course, but also in the rich characters & dialogue.

I think it’s difficult to make a satire on our obsession with violence that then uses excessive violence to get its point across. Does this movie glorify violence just as much as it claims the media does, thanks to shows such as the film’s American Maniacs as hosted by Robert Downey Jr’s character? I read that, at first, this movie was going to be a straight-up action film before Stone decided to turn it into a satirical black comedy. I think changing the direction of the movie was a very wise decision. Actually, this is what I read at Wikipedia – I can see why he changed his mind:

“As the project developed however, incidents such as the O.J. Simpson case, the Menendez brothers case, the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident, the Rodney King incident, and the Federal assault of the Branch Davidian sect all took place. Stone came to feel that the media was heavily involved in the outcome of all of these cases, and that the media had become an all-pervasive entity which marketed violence and suffering for the good of ratings. As such, he changed the tone of the movie from one of simple action to a satirical critique of the media in general.”

I think the movie very much gets its point across and is even more relevant today as violence seems to be at an all-time high but, also, scenes of graphic violence are even more immediately accessible now than in 1994 thanks to the explosion of the Internet. It’s not some true-crime TV show (hosted by Downey Jr with, I gotta say, a really annoying fake Australian accent) that we have to worry about these days. Hell, American Maniacs looks like a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon compared to today’s video games & torture porn films never mind the disturbing clips of real-life violence which are far too readily available online thanks to everyone having their own damn video cameras in their phones. (Off Topic Rant: Man, I love my phone but wish I could time travel back to 1985 when peoples’ private lives weren’t being constantly recorded & uploaded for all to see. Kardashian-free 1980’s life sounds like a damn utopia now! Rant Over). So, Natural Born Killers is more relevant today but also wouldn’t actually work if made now as it’s no longer satire. Watching it now was quite scary, in a way, as I imagine it felt far-fetched in 1994? Now it just feels like one of those Making A Murderer type of true story documentaries that are so popular on Netflix.

I’m actually a huge wuss when it comes to violence in movies (I watch Tarantino’s with my hands over my face half the time) but am more accepting when the movie has a message like I feel this one does. There’s lots of blood in this but I was able to watch it all as it’s not as “gory” as Tarantino-directed films (which do glorify violence but are so cleverly written that I can’t help but love them anyway as a fan of film). Will someone go on a murder spree after watching this? Maybe. But someone who does that would’ve done that anyway whether or not they’d watched a violent movie or played a violent video game.

Oh crap – I really didn’t want to get into a deep discussion about the film’s message and about whether the media has a responsibility to humanity to not glorify violence and blah blah blah. That’s one of those arguments that can go around in circles for an eternity. All I’ll say is: Society is fucked. The media – including movies, TV, video games, websites – is just a reflection of society. It gives us what we seem to want based on our behavior. I think Natural Born Killers displays that logic perfectly but it’s a shame that its message, although extremely blatant, seemed to not be fully grasped by everyone at the time.

I think what worked for me with this movie besides the film’s message was its style. I loved the psychedelic scenes and Stone’s use of different colors. I thought the I Love Lucy sitcom-style scenes involving Rodney Dangerfield as the abusive father of Juliette Lewis were very inventive and the scene in the rattlesnake-filled desert was trippy. Hell, I even found the “marriage on the bridge” scene oddly romantic in a messed-up way. That’s the thing – I think most people watching this movie find themselves liking Lewis’ & Harrelson’s Mickey & Mallory despite the fact that they’re psychotic killers with no remorse. But that’s the whole point, of course. The media in the movie makes them stars and the movie itself has made their fictional characters stars. By the end, you want Mickey & Mallory to live happily ever after and THAT is truly fucked-up. That’s how good the movie is, though – it turns us into the Mickey & Mallory-worshipping audience of American Maniacs.

My Rating: 8/10

42 thoughts on “Natural Born Killers (1994) Blind Spot Review

  1. Great review Miss Mutant! And I’m glad you enjoyed this film 🙂 I was obsessed with Natural Born Killers when I was a teenager, in a weird, romanticised way. I’m sure you know what I mean lol.

    I watch it now and find it far less fulfililng though I still enjoy bits of it and think Wayne Gale is one of the best film characters…..ever!

    I’ve read the original screenplay by Tarantino and it’s similar and different at the same time.

    Tarantino wrote it less in a less ‘cartoonish’ way, less ‘fun’. He wrote Mickey and Mallory as what they were – cold blooded murderers but Stone made them more likable, as you say you end up liking them by the end of the movie! I think Tarantino pretty much hated Stone’s final version and demanded his name was taken off the credits etc. He might have mellowed more now though haha, it’s still a fun, interesting movie.

    • Thanks, Emma! I knew you liked this one. 🙂 In a way, I think I appreciated it more seeing it all these years later mainly because movies are mostly disappointing these days! It was nice to see a good older one I’d missed. Aww – it’s a shame if Tarantino isn’t happy with this. I think it’s quite good! Possibly even better than his very worst films?? Hmm. Blasphemy! Lol 🙂

      • I’m not sure. I think NBK is certainly more iconic and memorable than some of Tarantino’s movies, but for me personally it’s too ‘hokey’ to ever be actually…better.

        I think he just disliked what Stone did with the screenplay. I think Tarantino is quite arrogant (in a nice way lol) and for someone to make HIS script in a way he didn’t like probably pissed him off. I can almost hear him ranting about it!! Though he didn’t have a problem with True Romance (he liked that one!) and Tony Scott changed that script too, Tarantino wrote it so Clarence died from the gun shot but Tony Scott wanted a happy ending. Which I understand 🙂 I guess Tarantino did too!

        Did you like the NBK soundtrack? I think Trent Reznor produced it. I really like the Leonard Cohen songs they use (a first for me!!) but not much else if I’m honest.

      • I need to stop reading this! True Romance is my next Blind Spot movie!!! Lol! 😉 (I’m actually watching it either this weekend or next weekend). Okay – I’ve glanced & seen a mention of Leonard Cohen. Yep! I loved the use of his stuff. It’s become a bit of a cliche to use his songs now but, back then, I became a fan after his songs were used in Pump Up The Volume. He was a perfect fit for NBK too. 🙂

      • Oh fuck I’m such a twat, sorry. I really mean that, sorry!!!!!!!!!!!! My big mouth. Shut up Emma!!! DON’T read what I said. Delete the comment!!!!

        Leonard Cohen! I’ll just shout that instead, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen!! LEONARD COHEN.

      • Bwahaha!!!!! You crack me up. 😉 That’s okay – I think I glanced something about someone being killed but I kind of figured the majority of the characters would die anyway. 😉 lol. Watching it next weekend!

  2. Loved this film and the non-linear/unique way of story telling. There was some WOW imagery in the film, like the part when the scenes of violence are playing out on the wall of the buildings as they were driving through town. I think it’s an incredible film!

    • Agreed! Loved the imagery – that really helped sell the film to me. And the characters & the message. I think the film probably doesn’t quite get the credit it deserves (maybe due to controversy). Glad I finally saw it. 🙂

  3. I watched this many, many years ago and rather liked it, but I think it deserves another shot now that I’m older and wiser. Well, older. The whole “does the media glorify violence” thing is an overdone discussion that, as you say, just goes round in circles, but it sounds like NBK still has something worthwhile to say about it.

    • Yeah, I think it’s worth a re-watch. The message is still (if not more) relevant now – the only difference is that it’s not just the media we have to blame/worry about these days. Plus, so many movies are shit these days that I think I was just happy to see an older film that’s quite good! 😉

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  5. Great commentary. I love how you dig into the themes. Despite being so experimental cinema wise, it’s actually quite strong symbolically and philosophically. That said, I enjoy the Tarantino elements a lot. I’m sure you can still download his screenplay somewhere. It’s definitely worth the read for a true movie fan like yourself!

    • Thank you! 🙂 You know, it’s funny – I’ve never read a screenplay. I really should as I’d find that fascinating. I’ve actually just watched True Romance too for the very first time as my next Blind Spot movie. When I chose these two, I expected to love True Romance & wasn’t even really looking forward to this one. But I actually far preferred Natural Born Killers… I think it’s a much better film. It doesn’t really seem to get recognized.

      • I think it helps that I saw it so many years later. Really doesn’t feel controversial nowadays. Hell, it’s mild compared to a lot of stuff now. 🙂

      • True enough… sadly… I remember feeling it pushed the envelope; not only with the gratuitous violence, but also its experimental film style (I think Oliver Stone used every stock of film available hehehe).

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