Natural Born Killers was Harrelson’s big solo break out movie (he’d already had some major turns in Indecent Proposal and Cheers) and with rockin’ reason. The flick is essentially an explosion of shameless Americana filtered through a blood-soaked Tarantino-inspired (it should be no shock that he came up with the off-kilter story – it’s essentially True Romance, on acid) lens.
The 1994 film follows two outcasts, Mickey (Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) as they fall in love and embark on a romantic cross-country murder spree. When it came out, it had Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers raving, and deeming director Olive Stone as important a filmmaker as Kubrick. I don’t know if I’d say that (I’m not really a Kubrick girl) but it’s definitely worth the watch. If you got a strong stomach.
Stone toys with your sense of reality – and morality – with this twisted tale, alternating between lovey dovey moments and brutal bar-side killings. He sets this delightfully disjunctive tone by randomly switching between kitschy candy-coloured green screen shots and basic black and white sequences. It’s like crack for ADD-afflicted eyes.
What makes Natural Born Killers so relevant (and re-watchable) today is it’s sharp criticism of the ridiculousness of pop culture phenomenons. To put it in modern terms, it’s essentially an R-rated version of Gaga’s “Telephone” video mixed in with the tripped out trials of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. There’s an twisted I Love Lucy segment, a sleaze-tastic America’s Most Wanted knock-off and of course, a montage of assorted tabloid stories. The main characters even become pop cultural fixtures themselves, inspiring fan clubs and t-shirts and causing many impressionable teens to say, “If I was a serial killer, I’d be Mickey and Mallory!”
This over-the-top media frenzy is meant to showcase our weird fascination with celebrating the sickos and inappropriate oddballs of modern culture. Like when slimy American Maniacs host, Wayne Gale (Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., fills the divinely douchey role) agrees to let his crew, and many an innocent bystander, get gutted so he can score a live exclusive interview with Mickey. It’s revolting but fascinating at the same time. Because quite frankly, we know that this scenario is not as unrealistic as it should be. We might not be willing to kill for a scandalous story, but we’re almost willing to let someone else do it for us. Four words: If I Did It.
But unlike OJ, these mass murders are mighty charismatic. Harrelson and Lewis are like firecrackers, lighting up every seen and making every moment and tongue-twisty line burn a whole in your expectations.They have so much chemistry it verges on creepy, especially considering Lewis was just 21 when this came out. But it works, most because they have the same darkly intriguing look in their eyes.
Part Dexter, part Patrick Bateman, these two have a sick sense of life and death. They are way serious about killing and have no remorse whatsoever. But unlike those hack-happy boys, Mickey and Mallory seem like real, life-loving people. They have no qualms about dancing to Leonard Cohen, talking about the last time they had key lime pie or designing a fake wedding on the side of the highway after a killing. Oh, yeah, and they have the ability to you know, actually love.
These two are so dedicated to each other, they will do in anything and anyone to keep it that way. The plasma-drenched finale has America’s Slaughter-Lovin’ Sweethearts knocking off hundreds of jail birds, guards and media people with nothing but some shotguns, a camera and a thirst for unjustified justice. It’s as masterful as any action sequence today (perhaps even better) and horrifying to watch. But it’s also grossly gratifying and hard to look away from. And that’s the point.