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Natural Born Killers Director's Cut Blu-ray Review - -

Feature 7.0
Video 7.0
Audio 8.0
Special Features 9.5
Total 8.0

Distributor: Warner Bros
Running Time: 122 mins
Reviewer: Simon Black
: R


Natural Born Killers - Director's Cut

Few films have divided critics and filmgoers to the extent of Oliver Stone’s turbulent 1994 crime satire Natural Born Killers.  The normally staid Roger Ebert descended into an frenzy of superlative, giving the film four out of four stars and declaring it a masterpiece.  Other reviewers, including The New York Times, were less kind however, decrying the film as ‘flashy, loathsome and utterly empty.’

Regardless of its critical reception, few cinematic efforts in recent memory have proven as controversial.  The film was directly implicated in a number of copycat slayings, and was known to be a favourite of several serial and spree killers such as the Columbine shooters, resulting in both Stone and the movie’s producers being sued numerous times as a result of such fatal outbursts.  Though constitutional laws guaranteeing the right of artistic expression meant such court cases were all eventually dismissed, they did little to quell the film’s reputation as a singularly tumultuous and bloody opus.

Based on a script originally written by Quentin Tarantino, Natural Born Killers follows the exploits of Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis), a pair of maleficent lovers who go on an extended rampage across the United States.  Their exploits garner much media scrutiny, and indeed the principle thesis of the film is the manner in which media portrayals thoughtlessly elevate unrepentant criminals to the status of celebrities, a point which seems to have been lost on the real-life killers who derived inspiration from the work.  The film spent almost a year in the editing process, and reportedly contains roughly five times as many cuts as the average movie.  Eccentric camera angles, grainy black and white insertions, rear projection, filters and stock footage all add to the hallucinatory air, mirroring the explosiveness of the subject matter and disorientating the viewer by barely allowing a chance to focus on the action at hand before another lively shot is substituted. 

That the film is one of the most savage ever to grace the screen is undeniable.  The extent to which this becomes justifiable is, of course, the extent to which the viewer subscribes to its central tenets: that desperate people will become driven to desperate acts, that television and popular culture breed systematic desensitisation to violence, that you can only prod a caged animal so many times before it bites.  Truth be told much of the violence is cartoonish and surreal, underpinning the occasionally metaphorical nature of the acts themselves and diffusing some of the horror inherent in the concept of decent people being killed for no reason other than sport.  Still this is not one for the squeamish, and the manipulation of symbolism, colour and recurrent demonological motifs all take a back seat to the visceral and frighteningly unpredictable scenes of wanton slaughter.

Stone also makes effective use of Tarantino’s typically vivid characterisations.  Goggle-eyed Rodney Dangerfield is truly repugnant as Mallory’s lecherous father, spewing vitriol like a repulsive, bloated toad in scenes that mock the mindless nature of canned-laughter sitcoms such as Married With Children.  A hyped-up Robert Downey Jr. is believable as reporter Wayne Gale, making the somewhat idiosyncratic decision to play the character with an Aussie twang, and Tommy Lee Jones likewise puts in a memorable performance as a volatile and foulmouthed prison warden determined to clamp down on the criminal riff-raff in his charge.  

Natural Born Killers also retains a Tarantino-esque element of surprise.  The opening minutes give every indication of aiming for nothing more than sleepy and innocuous exposition before quickly degenerating into mayhem, both toying with the filmic convention of establishing character and narrative while taking the concept to its logical, if in this instance somewhat brutal, conclusion.  The soundtrack is a masterful affair, effortlessly incorporating modernity, vintage Americana and hints of world music into its shtick.  Artists as varied as Bob Dylan, Nine Inch Nails and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan all make appearances, and Stone playfully alternates genres like a hyperactive child set loose in a toy box.  Occasionally he favours silence, or layers three songs on top of each other as the fancy strikes.  The use of Patti Smith’s ‘Rock and Roll Nigger’ early on is especially apt given its refrain of ‘Outside of society is where I wanna be’, and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ proves a disingenuously mellow choice of number to play over the bloodbath of an establishing scene. 

The director’s cut contains four minutes of additional footage declared too extreme for the original theatrical release, and excised by Stone in order for the film to receive an NC-17 rating in the US.  The picture looks excellent in 1080p.  Colours are vibrant and clearly delineated, certainly a bonus in a feature which makes such protracted use of chromatics, and the contrast is respectably sharp.  Sound quality is likewise crisp, and the 5.1 audio track makes good use of HD surround technology.  The many extras also prove a worthwhile incentive, with introductions and audio commentary courtesy of Stone, in addition to deleted scenes, documentaries and interviews. 

For my money, Stone overplays his hand slightly with Natural Born Killers.  A little too enamoured of its own cleverness, the film doesn’t so much make its point as hammer it home repeatedly, until the viewer’s consciousness is almost as battered as the remains of one of Mickey and Mallory’s 52 murder victims.  Which is, I suppose, the point.  At any rate the movie is an uncompromising and important addition to the 1990s cinematic landscape, and one that will continue to challenge and disquiet audiences for many years to come. 

Special Features

Featurette NBK Revolution: How would it all go down now?

Audio commentary and new introduction with director Oliver Stone

Chaos Rising: The storm around Natural Born Killers

Deleted scenes featuring performances by Ashley Judd, Denis Leary and others

Charlie Rose interview with Oliver Stone

Alternate ending

Theatrical trailer


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