Natural Born Killers (1995) dir. Oliver Stone
Starring; Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr. Tom Sizemore, Tommy Lee Jones
By Alan Bacchus
It's about time this disc arrived. In fact, why Warner decided to release the now irrelevant and obsolete theatrical version of this film on Blu-Ray last year remains a mystery; we all knew this director's cut edition wasn't far off.
The term "director's cut" is not what it used to be. What was once a badge of honour for filmmakers, a rare triumph of their creative vision over the tinkering hands of studio execs, has become an overused marketing tool. Despite the diluted power of the term, the fact is this version of Natural Born Killers is one of the best-ever director's cuts out there. The Blu-Ray disc essentially repackages the same collection of extras from the mid-'90s laserdisc and double VHS set ― audio commentary from Oliver Stone, featurettes, some truly awesome deleted scenes, a Charlie Rose interview and an alternate ending. A couple of mediocre new additions in high definition include an introduction from Stone reflecting on the relevance of his film 15 years later and a silly featurette postulating what kind of celebrity Mickey and Mallory might have achieved in the age of the internet.
The real treasures are the 150-plus reinstated cuts and shaved frames Stone needed to make to achieve a theatrical R-rating. Though the two cuts differ only by three minutes, these small edits skyrocket what was an enjoyable, thought-provoking, violent romp into the stratosphere of cinematic chaos. The restored scenes include more throat-slashing, body mutilation, blood splattering and, towards the end, the sight of Tommy Lee Jones's head on a stick waved around by the rioting prison mob ― moments perhaps too quick to notice but that add up to an even greater sense of nihilistic mayhem.
Watching it again, it’s hard to believe the script started off as a Quentin Tarantino film. Though the visual style and statement-making satirical tone is wholly Oliver Stone, some of the Tarantino hallmarks remain. The murderous duo, Mickey and Mallory, on the road and on the run, contain many of the humorous dialogue interaction and genre-reverence as Tarantino’s scripts for “True Romance”, “From Dusk till Dawn”. But in the hands of Stone, and his co-writers it became a beast through he could make his type of grand statements. Since it's a satire the extreme flourishes are necessary and make the statement stronger.
None of the freneticness would work if the film wasn't entertaining. Harrelson and Lewis make a wonderful fun loving couple of psychotics. If anything Juliette Lewis’ character treads too much on the performances from her other films (ie. “Kalifornia”), but Harrelson who is cast against type has the screen presence and confidence to pull off his conflicted character.
Around every corner is a number of wonderful scene stealer supporting performances. Tom Sizemore’s extreme ‘bad cop’ Jack Scagnetti and Tommy Lee Jones’ prison warden Jack McClusky are even more repulsive than Mickey and Mallory. But it’s Robert Downey Jr.’s Aussie TV talk show host Wayne Gale who shines. It's one of Downey's best characters. Although Gale is manic, absurd and goes over the edge his TV interview with Mickey brings out a sharp intelligence to his character.
The amount of media coverage the ridiculous "balloon boy" story recently garnered clearly renders Natural Born Killers as relevant today as yesterday. But even those turned off by Stone's sledgehammer statement making should still marvel at the quality of his technical experimentation in mainstream storytelling. It's one of the last films in a remarkably productive ten-year run of filmmaking for Stone, which saw him hone and perfect his bold and innovative multi-format, multi-media techniques. Natural Born Killers achieves a state of nirvana for this style; it's a monumental achievement to create coherence from the almost random cornucopia of imagery and sound mashed together. In fact, in the DVD audio commentary, Stone ends his discussion by giving extra special thanks to his negative cutter, who had the hardest job on the production, assembling the final film from over 3,000 edits from multiple format sources.
This review first appeared on Exclaim.ca