Judge Ryan Keefer is a natural born distiller.
The media made them superstars.
Remember 1994? Quentin Tarantino was fresh off the success of his first film Reservoir Dogs and now had written a script about a Bonnie and Clyde type of serial killing couple whose exploits propelled them into notoriety. His script caught the eye of Oliver Stone (Alexander), and pretty soon, Stone's changes to the story made Tarantino a little bit sore, and eventually the project became something that was more Stone's baby than anything else. The result was Natural Born Killers, a polarizing film about a controversial subject, the perfect position for Stone to be in. So how does it hold up now?
Facts of the Case
The couple who embarked on a killing spree in the Southwest was Mickey and Mallory Knox. Mickey (Woody Harrelson, No Country For Old Men) was a loner of sorts and met Mallory (Juliette Lewis, Catch and Release), who was living in a dysfunctional household, whose head (played by comic legend Rodney Dangerfield in a bold casting move) frequently abused the women of the house both physically and sexually. Mickey and Mallory killed Mallory's parents and from there went out and killed scores of people without malice or forethought. Hot on their heels was Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore, Black Hawk Down), a successful police detective with a dark side of his own. Scagnetti manages to capture Mickey and Mallory and visits them in prison, where the warden (played by Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive) plans to transport them to a mental institution, but not before Mickey is given one final interview to Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr., Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), a tabloid reporter whose interview of Mickey is designed to give Wayne as much, if not more, fame than Mickey.
You've got to love what Stone tries to tackle in each one of his features. But you do have to subtract his infatuation for deconstructing the right-wing in dramatic interpretation, or his love of all things 60s; I'm talking about the non-fiction stuff. And his message in Natural Born Killers isn't hard to break down: Mickey and Mallory are the by-products of a culture that almost seems to promote violence as entertainment. The public's near-acceptance of their barbaric acts is a reflection of this, and the way that everything they do seems to have some sort of cash value to it, be it stories from witnesses, interviews with the culprits is perverse. It is what we've become in the 24-hour news cycle. We are Mickey and Mallory whether we want to admit it or not, Stone purports, and the violence in and around their circle is designed for you to make sure you know what you're getting into.
Ultimately, as Stone discusses in his commentary, the film's main characters are very much in love, and it's a love story about people that happen to murder. Mickey and Malloy's family structure growing up as children in different parts of the country was shattered. Malloy's father abuses her, Mickey's father beat up his mom frequently and one day killed himself yards from Mickey in a tall field. They are kindred souls who desire to break out from their current set of circumstances, their love is at first sight, they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other; when they reunite it's touching in a way. As it probably should be in some weird way.
Technically, Natural Born Killers uses every trick in the book, using 35, 16 and 8mm film, not to mention color and black and white. Warner presents Natural Born Killers in 1.85:1 widescreen and uses the VC-1 codec, and the disc reproduces the various looks in the film well, with film grain present though much of the feature. I didn't see too much in the way of depth and detail to gain from this, and occasionally there was quite some noise in some of the film's shots. Considering what's going on in the film, you're not going to get an entirely faithful reproduction in high definition, but the film looks fine. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is a little bit better, with directional activity from all speakers and panning like you wouldn't believe. The opening credits sequence sounds great from an effects view. There's not too much subwoofer usage in the film, but it's fine. What was a little bit annoying was the fact that the dialogue might have been a little on the weak side, but otherwise this isn't shabby.
From an extras point of view, this disc resembles the Director's Cut and other versions in the Oliver Stone Collection put out by Warner. The documentary has been dropped and an interview with Stone on the Charlie Rose Show in its place. Before I get to that material, Warner has chosen to give this the "book treatment," with the packaging in a hard cardboard book-style case and being about a half inch taller than its other Blu-ray cohort and containing about 40 pages worth of interview snippets, film trivia and biographical information on the stars, along with some interesting stills. The Rose interview lasts about 12 minutes and is a de facto defense of the film, while Stone talks about the violent themes of the film and how similar themes could be found elsewhere. Stone also contributes a commentary for the film. Normally Stone is an engaging participant for commentaries, but he seems a little bit detached here, watching the film a little more often than he normally would. He does discuss some shots in the film from time to time, and discusses the differences between Tarantino's script and the story we all eventually saw, but aside from Jones reminding Stone of Jack Palance and discussing Lewis' performance as a little androgynous, there's not too much to listen to here. Even the six deleted scenes which run a little over 20 minutes are kind of disappointing too. Sure, you see the Jones death, and the scenes with Ashley Judd (Heat) and Denis Leary (The Ref) that Stone omitted, but it's a whole lot of boring, along with the alternate ending, which runs about four minutes long. The trailer completes the disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I might be mistaken, but in watching the end for this review, it appears that the Nine Inch Nails song "Burn" might have been dropped. Considering how eclectic the soundtrack is, and from time to time the sound times to overlap, I might be wrong, but I remember it from the theatrical run. Cripes, it's still on my MP3 player for that matter.
But back to the matter at hand. While Stone's message is a pointed one, the reason I think that it's good without being great is that the film tends to indulge in the theatrics of various different film stocks and visuals that it tends to disorient the viewer and blur the message that violence is being turned into entertainment. Trent Reznor's varied soundtrack aside, this becomes a latter-day MTV version of Network, though not nearly as effective.
Natural Born Killers is certainly a film designed to generate some discussion about violence in present day America, whether you like it or not. The performances and story are intriguing, and from a next-generation point of view, technically the disc is good but not great, and the supplements seem a little on the light side. The only thing you're really double-dipping on is really cool packaging, and based on that I wouldn't spend the 20 to 30 bucks.
Warner Bros. is sentenced to time at Batongaville until a really good edition of the film is worth buying.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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