Natural Born Killers (1994)

(Second viewing, On TV, October 2016) I first watched Natural Born Killers on VHS two decades ago, given to me by a friend who thought it was quite the experience. He was right (for summers after, I’d refer to myself jokingly as “Natural Born Christian” whenever I shaved my head), and watching the film again today only highlights it. There isn’t much to the basic plot, as an abused couple goes on a crime rampage, are arrested, become unlikely folk heroes and then react to an attempt to turn them into TV stars during a live interview from the prison in which they’re held. But the way director Oliver Stone chooses to put together the film is special. Blending impressionistic techniques such as animation, double-cutting, various film stocks, repeated lines, colour shifts and tilted cameras (among others), Natural Born Killers aims to create a chaotic atmosphere and reach for bigger themes about violence and media amplification in American society. It still works remarkably well, largely due to solid performances and in-your-face direction. This was Woody Harrelson’s first turn as a quasi-villain, and it’s still creepily effective today. Meanwhile, Juliette Lewis is very good in a role very much in-line of her early persona role—and I say this as someone who doesn’t usually like that persona. Elsewhere in the movie, Rodney Dangerfield is brutally effective as the star of a demented expeditionary sitcom, while Robert Downey Jr. gets a small but memorable role as a ratings-obsessed TV personality. Natural Born Killer is noisy, confusing, exhilarating, depressing and sometimes even beautiful. It remains quite a viewing experience with a relevant message even more than twenty years after release. (Amusingly enough, the channel on which I watched the film at very low volume did not have fully working subtitles, adding to the messy chaos of the viewing experience.)

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