Natural Born Killers
|Natural Born Killers|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Oliver Stone|
|Produced by||Arnon Milchan
|Screenplay by||Oliver Stone
|Story by||Quentin Tarantino|
Robert Downey, Jr.
and Tommy Lee Jones
|Music by||Brent Lewis|
|Editing by||Brian Berdan|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures
|Running time||119 minutes|
Natural Born Killers is a 1994 American crime-action film directed by Oliver Stone about two victims of traumatic childhoods who became lovers and mass murderers, and are irresponsibly glorified by the mass media. It stars Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, along with Rodney Dangerfield, Robert Downey, Jr., Tom Sizemore, and Tommy Lee Jones.
The film is based on a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino that was heavily revised by Stone with writer Dave Veloz and associate producer Richard Rutowski. Notorious for its violent content, the film was named the eighth most controversial film of all time by Entertainment Weekly in 2006.
Natural Born Killers was promoted with such taglines as: "A bold new film that takes a look at a country seduced by fame, obsessed by crime and consumed by the media" and "In the media circus of life, they were the main attraction." It was released theatrically in the United States on August 26, 1994.
Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and his wife Mallory (Juliette Lewis) stop at a roadside café in the New Mexico desert. A group of rednecks (Richard Lineback, Kirk Baltz, and an uncredited James Gammon) arrive and one begins sexually harassing Mallory. She briefly encourages him before beating him to a pulp. Mickey and Mallory then murder all but one of the diner's patrons, culminating in a morbid game of Eeny, meeny, miny, moe to decide who lives and who dies. After executing the waitress Mabel (O-Lan Jones), the couple ensures that the only survivor remembers their names (which is their modus operandi) before they embrace and declare their undying love. Note that Owen Traft, participant in later scenes and an alternative ending to the movie, is in the roadside cafe and fades out before the "action" occurs.
Mickey and Mallory camp out in the desert, and Mallory reminisces about when they first met. A flashback shows Mickey as a deliveryman who came to the house where Mallory lived with her sexually abusive father (Rodney Dangerfield), her neglectful mother (Edie McClurg), and her younger brother, Kevin (Sean Stone). Mickey and Mallory fall in love instantly and leave together, as Mickey steals a car that belongs to Mallory's father. Soon Mickey is arrested and imprisoned for grand theft auto, but he subsequently escapes during a tornado and returns to Mallory's house. The two kill Mallory's parents, but spare Kevin, and go on the road together and get "married" on the side of a bridge, celebrating by taking a hostage. Furious with Mickey's notion that they have a threesome, Mallory drives to a nearby gas station, where she flirts with the mechanic (Balthazar Getty). They begin to have sex on the hood of a car, but Mallory kills him when he recognizes her as a wanted killer. During this time, Mickey rapes the hostage.
The pair continue their killing-spree, ultimately claiming 52 victims in New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. Pursuing them is Detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), who became obsessed with mass murderers after witnessing his mother being shot and killed by Charles Whitman when he was eight. Beneath his heroic facade, he is a violent psychopath, once strangling a prostitute to death. The killers are also followed by self-serving tabloid journalist Wayne Gale (Robert Downey, Jr.). Gale profiles Mickey and Mallory on his show, American Maniacs, soon elevating them to cult-hero status.
Mickey and Mallory become lost in the desert and encounter Warren Red Cloud (Russell Means), a Navajo Indian, and his young grandson (Jeremiah Bitsui). After the two fall asleep, the Navajo, hoping to expel the demon he perceives in Mickey, begins chanting beside the fire, invoking nightmares in Mickey about his abusive parents. Mickey wakes up in a rage and fatally shoots Red Cloud before he realizes what he is doing. It is the first time Mallory and Mickey feel guilty for a murder. Fleeing from the scene through the desert, they stray onto a field of rattlesnakes and are both bitten.
They drive to a drugstore to find snakebite antidote, but the pharmacist sets off the silent alarm before Mickey kills him. Soon police cars arrive and Mallory is captured and subsequently beaten by the police. A gunfight breaks out between Mickey and the others. Scagnetti arrives and tells Mickey that unless he surrenders, he will cut off Mallory's breasts. Mickey gives up his guns, but attacks Scagnetti with a knife. The police taser him and the scene ends with Mickey and Mallory being beaten by a group of vengeful policemen as a Japanese news crew fronted by a female reporter films the action.
The story picks up one year later: the homicidal couple have been imprisoned, and are due to be moved to a mental hospital after being declared insane. Scagnetti arrives at the prison and encounters Warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones), with whom he plans to murder the two criminals. McClusky will arrange for Scagnetti to be the driver for the Knoxes' transfer. Alone with the pair, Scagnetti will murder them, then claim that they tried to escape.
Meanwhile, Gale has persuaded Mickey to agree to a live interview that will air immediately after the Super Bowl. Mallory is held in solitary confinement elsewhere in the prison, awaiting her transport to the mental hospital. During the interview, Mickey gives a speech about how murder provides enlightenment and declares himself a "natural born killer". His words inspire the other inmates (who are watching the interview on TV in the recreation room) and incite them to riot.
McClusky, upon learning of the riot, orders the interview terminated despite Gale's vehement protests. Mickey is left alone with Gale, the film crew and several guards. Using a lengthy joke as a diversion, Mickey overpowers a guard and grabs his shotgun. He kills most of the guards with it and takes the survivors hostage, leading them through the prison riot. Gale follows, giving a live television report as people are beaten and killed around him.
Scagnetti is in Mallory's cell and attempts to seduce her. Mallory rebuffs his efforts, smashing his face against the wall and breaking his nose. The guards and Scagnetti subdue her. Still live on national television, Mickey engages in a Mexican standoff with Scagnetti, eventually feigning a concession. Mallory then approaches Scagnetti from behind and slashes his throat with a shank. To Scagnetti's horror, Mickey tells him that he was out of shotgun shells during the standoff. Mallory then picks up Scagnetti's gun and kills him.
Mickey and Mallory continue to escape through the riot-torn prison, with Gale's entire TV crew getting killed. Gale himself snaps, succumbing to Stockholm syndrome, and begins to shoot at the guards with a pistol that he has taken from one of the dead guards. After being rescued by a mysterious prisoner named Owen Traft (Arliss Howard), the trio of Mickey, Mallory, and Gale run into McClusky and a heavily armed posse of guards. The trio takes cover in a blood-splattered shower room. McClusky threatens to storm the shower room; Mickey, in turn, threatens to kill both Gale and a guard on live TV, and the prisoners walk out the front door. McClusky and his guards are quickly massacred by hordes of inmates.
Mickey and Mallory steal a van and kill the last guard; Owen's fate is unknown. Escaping to a rural location, they give a final interview to Gale before they tell him he must also die. He attempts various arguments to change their minds, finally appealing to their trademark practice of leaving one survivor; Mickey informs him they are leaving a witness to tell the tale – his camera. Gale accepts his fate and extends his arms as if on a cross as they shoot him dead while his unattended camera continues to roll. The couple is shown several years later, in an RV, with Mickey driving and Mallory (who is pregnant) watching their two children play as the credits begin to roll.
- Woody Harrelson as Mickey Knox
- Juliette Lewis as Mallory Wilson Knox
- Robert Downey, Jr. as Wayne Gale
- Tom Sizemore as Detective Jack Scagnetti
- Tommy Lee Jones as Warden Dwight McClusky
- Rodney Dangerfield as Ed Wilson
- Edie McClurg as Mrs. Wilson
- Sean Stone as Kevin Wilson
- Russell Means as Navajo man
- Lanny Flaherty as Earl
- Evan Handler as David
- Balthazar Getty as Gas station attendant
- Richard Lineback as Sonny
- Kirk Baltz as Roger
- Steven Wright as Dr. Emil Reingold
- Pruitt Taylor Vince as Deputy Warden Kavanaugh
- Joe Grifasi as Deputy Sheriff Duncan Homolka
- Everett Quinton as Deputy Wurlitzer
- Marshall Bell as Deputy
- Peter Crombie as Intense cop
- Louis Lombardi as Deputy "Sparky"
- Dale Dye as Dale Wrigley
- Corey Everson as Mallory Knox in TV reconstruction
- O-Lan Jones as Mabel
- Ashley Judd as Grace Mulberry
- Rachel Ticotin as Prosecutor Wanda Bisbing
- Peter and David Paul as Simon and Norman Hun
- Denis Leary as Prison Inmate
- James Gammon as Redneck's buddy
- Mark Harmon as Mickey Knox in TV reconstruction
- Adrien Brody and David Pasquesi as Gale's cameramen
- Arliss Howard as Owen Traft, Mickey and Mallory's Guardian Angel / The Demon
Natural Born Killers was based upon a screenplay written by Quentin Tarantino, in which a married couple suddenly decides to go on a killing spree. Tarantino had sold an option for his script to producers Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy for $10,000 after he had tried, and failed, to direct it himself for $500,000. Hamsher and Murphy subsequently sold the screenplay to Warner Bros. Around the same time, Oliver Stone was made aware of the script. He was keen to find something more straightforward than his previous production, Heaven & Earth; a difficult shoot which had left him exhausted, and he felt that Natural Born Killers could be what he was looking for.
Director Oliver Stone, associate producer Richard Rutowski, and writer David Veloz rewrote the script, keeping much of the dialogue but changing the focus of the film from journalist Wayne Gale (Robert Downey, Jr.) to Mickey and Mallory. The script was changed so much that as per WGA rules, Tarantino was credited for the film's story only. In a 1993 interview, Tarantino stated that he did not hold any animosity towards Stone, and that he wished the film well;
"It's not going to be my movie, it's going to be Oliver Stone's, and God bless him. I hope he does a good job with it. If I wasn't emotionally attached to it, I'm sure I would find it very interesting. If you like my stuff, you might not like this movie. But if you like his stuff, you're probably going to love it. It might be the best thing he's ever done, but not because of anything to do with me. [...] I actually can't wait to see it, to tell you the truth."
Initially, when producers Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy had first brought the script to Stone's attention, he had seen it as an action movie; "something Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud of." As the project developed however, incidents such as the O.J. Simpson case, the Menendez brothers case, the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident, the Rodney King incident and the Federal assault of the Branch Davidian sect all took place. Stone came to feel that the media was heavily involved in the outcome of all of these cases, and that the media had become an all-pervasive entity which marketed violence and suffering for the good of ratings. As such, he changed the tone of the movie from one of simple action to a satirical critique of the media in general. Also coloring Stone's approach, and contributing to the violent nature of the film, were the anger and sadness he felt at the breakdown of his second marriage. He also said in an interview that the film was influenced by the "vitality" of Indian cinema. Rodney Dangerfield wrote or rewrote all of his lines.
During pre-production, to prepare for the role of Wayne Gale, Downey spent time with Australian TV shock-king Steve Dunleavy, and later convinced Stone to allow him to portray Gale with an Australian accent. Also during preproduction, Stone tried to convince actress Juliette Lewis to bulk up for the role of Mallory so that she looked tougher, but she refused, saying she wanted the character to look like a pushover, not like a female bodybuilder.
The entire film took only 56 days to shoot, but the editing process went on for 11 months, with the final film containing almost 3,000 cuts (most films have 600–700).
Filming locations included the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge just west of Taos, New Mexico, where the wedding scene was filmed, and Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois, where the prison riot was filmed. In Stateville, 80% of the prisoners are incarcerated for violent crimes. For the first two weeks on location at the prison, the extras were actual inmates with rubber weapons. For the subsequent two weeks, 200 extras were needed because the Stateville inmates were on lockdown. According to Tom Sizemore, during filming on the prison set, Stone would play African tribal music at full blast between takes to keep the frantic energy up. Whilst shooting the POV scene wherein Mallory runs into the wire mesh, director of photography Robert Richardson broke his finger and the replacement cameraman cut his eye. According to Oliver Stone, he wasn’t too popular with the camera department on set that day. For the scenes involving rear projection, the projected footage was shot prior to principal photography, then edited together, and projected onto the stage, behind the live actors. For example, when Mallory drives past a building and flames are projected onto the wall, this was shot live using footage projected onto the facade of a real building.
The famous Coca-Cola polar bear ad is seen twice during the film. According to Stone, Coca-Cola approved the use of the ad without having a full idea of what the film was about. When they saw the completed film, they were furious.
The soundtrack for the film was produced by Stone and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who reportedly watched the film over 50 times to "get in the mood". Reznor reportedly produced the soundtrack while on tour. On his approach to compiling the soundtrack, Reznor told MTV:
I suggested to Oliver [Stone] to try to turn the soundtrack into a collage-of-sound, kind of the way the movie used music: make edits, add dialog, and make it something interesting, rather than a bunch of previously released music.
Some songs were written especially for the film or soundtrack, such as "Burn" by Nine Inch Nails.
Natural Born Killers is shot and edited in a frenzied and psychedelic style consisting of black and white, animation, and other unusual color schemes, and employing a wide range of camera angles, filters, lenses and special effects. Much of the film is told via parodies of television shows, including a scene (I Love Mallory) presented in the style of a sitcom about a dysfunctional family. Commercials which were commonly on the air at the time of the film's release make brief, intermittent appearances. In his DVD Director's commentary, Oliver Stone goes into great detail about the look of the film, explaining scene by scene why a particular look was chosen for a particular scene.
Stone considered Natural Born Killers his road film, specifically naming Bonnie and Clyde as a source of inspiration. The famous death scene in Bonnie and Clyde used innovative editing techniques provided by multiple cameras shot from different angles at different speeds; this sporadic interchange between fast-paced and slow-motion editing that concludes Arthur Penn's film is used throughout the entirety of Natural Born Killers.
Furthermore, both films fall under the road movie genre through their constant challenges of the society in which the characters live. While Bonnie and Clyde attempt to disintegrate the weakened economic and social landscape of the 1930s, Mickey and Mallory try to free America from the overarching conventions which influence the common masses, primarily the media. However, whilst Bonnie and Clyde concludes with a pessimistic outlook regarding individual freedom within the American sphere of influence, Oliver Stone sees Natural Born Killers as having an optimistic finale. In Bonnie and Clyde, the police's ambush of the couple exhibits the empirical control of law enforcement over the individual. Natural Born Killers, however, ends with the couple symbolically destroying the mass media, as represented by Wayne Gale, and successfully fleeing together to live a relatively "normal" life. As Stone himself says, "In its own way, Natural Born Killers is ultimately a very optimistic film about the future. It's about freedom, and the ability of every human being to get it."
Box office and critical response
In its opening weekend, the film grossed a total of $11,166,687 in 1,510 theaters. As of January 12, 2007, the film has grossed a total of $50,282,766 domestically, compared to its $34 million budget.
The film received a mixed-to-positive critical response. As of October 15, 2011, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes records an average response of 48%, based on 33 reviews. However, Metacritic records a score of 74 out of 100 based on 20 reviews. Roger Ebert, a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the movie four stars out of four and wrote, "Seeing this movie once is not enough. The first time is for the visceral experience, the second time is for the meaning." On his television show, his partner Gene Siskel agreed with him, adding extra praise to the scene featuring Rodney Dangerfield.
Other critics found the film unsuccessful in its aims. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post claimed that "Stone's sensibility is white-hot and personal. As much as he'd like us to believe that his camera is turned outward on the culture, it's vividly clear that he can't resist turning it inward on himself. This wouldn't be so troublesome if Stone didn't confuse the public and the private." Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "for all its surface passions, Natural Born Killers never digs deep enough to touch the madness of such events, or even to send them up in any surprising way. Mr. Stone's vision is impassioned, alarming, visually inventive, characteristically overpowering. But it's no match for the awful truth."
James Berardinelli gave the film a negative review but his criticism was different from many other such pans, which generally said that Oliver Stone was a hypocrite for making an ultra-violent film in the guise of a critique of American attitudes. Berardinelli noted that the movie "hits the bullseye" as a satire of America's lust for bloodshed, but repeated Stone's main point so often and so loudly that it became unbearable.
When the film was first handed in to the MPAA, they told Stone they would give it an NC-17 unless he cut it. As such, Stone toned down the violence by cutting approximately four minutes of footage, and the MPAA re-rated the film as an R. The original cut is now available on DVD and Blu-ray disc.
The original intended UK home video release in March 1996 was cancelled due to the Dunblane massacre in Scotland. In the meantime, Channel Five showed the film in November 1997. It was finally released on video in July 2001.
Stone has continually maintained that the film is a satire on how serial killers are adored by the media for their horrific actions and that those who claim that the violence in the movie itself is a cause of societal violence miss the point of the movie.
From almost the moment of its release, the film has been accused of encouraging and inspiring numerous murderers in North America, including the Heath High School shooting and the Columbine High School massacre.
The soundtrack was released August 23, 1994 by Interscope Records.
- "Waiting for the Miracle" (Edit) – Leonard Cohen
- "Shitlist" – L7
- "Moon Over Greene County" (Edit) – Dan Zanes
- "Rock N Roll Nigger" (Flood Remix) – Patti Smith
- "Sweet Jane" (Edit) – Cowboy Junkies
- "You Belong to Me" – Bob Dylan
- "The Trembler" (Edit) – Duane Eddy
- "Burn" – Nine Inch Nails
- "Route 666" – BB Tone Brian Berdan feat. Robert Downey, Jr.
- "Totally Hot" – Remmy Ongala & Orchestre Super Matimila
- "Back in Baby's Arms" – Patsy Cline
- "Taboo" (Edit) – Peter Gabriel and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
- "Sex is Violent" – Jane's Addiction and Diamanda Galás (based on "Ted, Just Admit It...")
- "History Repeats Itself" (Edit) – A.O.S.
- "Something I Can Never Have" (Edited and Extended) – Nine Inch Nails
- "I Will Take You Home" – Russell Means
- "Drums a Go-Go" (Edit) – The Hollywood Persuaders
- "Hungry Ants" – Barry Adamson
- "The Day the Niggaz Took Over" – Dr. Dre
- "Born Bad" – Juliette Lewis
- "Fall of the Rebel Angels" (Edit) – Sergio Cervetti
- "Forkboy" – Lard
- "Batonga in Batongaville" (Edit) –
- "A Warm Place" (Edit) – Nine Inch Nails
- "Allah, Mohammad, Char, Yaar" – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
- "The Future" (Edit) – Leonard Cohen
- "What Would U Do?" – Tha Dogg Pound
Tracks 10, 13, 18, 21, 23, 25 are assembled from various recordings and dialogue from the film.
- Hamsher, Jane (1998). Killer Instinct. Broadway.
- Hanley, Jason. (2001) “Natural Born Killers: Music and Image in Postmodern Film,” in Postmodern Music/ Postmodern Thought, Routledge. ed. Joseph Auner and Judy Lochhead, pp. 335–359.
- Warner Bros. only owns the rights to the theatrical version, Oliver Stone himself retained ownership of his preferred cut. Distribution rights to the director's cut reverted from Lionsgate to WB in 2009.
- 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever, Entertainment Weekly, 9 June 2006
- Hamsher, Jane (1998). Killer Instinct. Broadway. pp. 48–51. ISBN 0-7679-0075-8.
- "Oliver Stone Interview with Charlie Rose". Retrieved 2008-11-25.
- Fuller, Graham (1998). "Graham Fuller/1993". In Peary, Gerald. Quentin Tarantino: Interviews. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 57–59. ISBN 1-57806-051-6.
- "‘Chaos Rising: The Storm Around Natural Born Killers’ (DVD Featurette)".
- Cadwalladr, Carole (18 July 2010). "Oliver Stone and the politics of film-making". The Observer (paragraph 19). Retrieved 22 July 2010.
- "Oliver Stone 'loves' Indian cinema". BBC News. October 27, 2010.
- "MOVIES : Natural Born Actor : Comic titan Rodney Dangerfield is getting respect for his performance as a hateful dad in 'Natural Born Killers.'". LA Times. Retrieved 2013-05-27.
- "Director’s Commentary (DVD Extra)".
- "Coke Lore: Polar Bears – Advertising Case History". The Coca-Cola Company. Retrieved 20 October 2010.
- "Natural Born Thriller". Los Angeles Times. October 1994.
- "An Interview with Charlie Clouser". Scene Magazine. September 1996.
- "Box Set: NIN On "Doing The Soundtrack For Natural Born Killers"". MTV.com. Retrieved 2008-02-18.
- Lavington, Stephen. Oliver Stone. London: Virgin Books, 2004.
- Leong, Ian, Mike Sell, and Kelly Thomas. "Mad Love, Mobile Homes, and Dysfunctional Dicks." The Road Movie Book. Ed. Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark (1997): 70–89.
- "Natural Born Killers". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
- Corliss, Richard (1994-08-24). "Stone Crazy". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2008-11-23.
- Ebert, Roger (August 26, 1994). "Natural Born Killers". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
- Hinson, Hal (August 26, 1994). "Natural Born Killers". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
- Maslin, Janet (August 26, 1994). "Natural Born Killers; Young Lovers With a Flaw That Proves Fatal". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
- "'Natural Born Killers' Is Banned in Ireland". NY Times. Retrieved 2013-05-26.
- "Irish Film Institute - Natural Born Killers". Irish Film Institute. Retrieved 2013-05-26.
- "Natural Born Killers given video release". The Guardian (London). May 16, 2001.
- "25 Most Controversial Movies Ever". Entertainment Weekly. August 27, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Natural Born Killers|
- Natural Born Killers at the Internet Movie Database
- Natural Born Killers at allmovie
- Natural Born Killers at Box Office Mojo
- Natural Born Killers at Rotten Tomatoes
- Natural Born Killers at Metacritic
- "Natural Born Killers: Beyond Good and Evil", by Heidi Nelson Hochenedel, Ph.D.
- "Natural Born Copycats", a 2002 article from The Guardian on Stone's response to claims that the film inspired several murders.