[box cover]

Natural Born Killers

Warner Home Video

Starring Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey, Jr.,
and Tommy Lee Jones

Written by Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino
Directed by Oliver Stone

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Review by D. K. Holm                    

Oliver Stone courts controversy like a streetwalker flags truckers. Over the years he's gone from a drugs and violence meister (screenplays for Midnight Express and Scarface) to deep theologian on our collective Vietnam experience. The drama of his life reached a peak with JFK, but lapsed a little with the ignored Heaven and Earth. Yet with 1994's Natural Born Killers — based loosely on a screenplay credited to Quentin Tarantino — he was back in the saddle, raising the hackles of every pundit and hack in the land, and pleasing the heck out of film students in awe of his free-wheeling visual style, a continuation by other means of his approach to JFK.

The film is a simple love story between two lower class youths with an active sexual life and a violent imagination. Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) meets Mallory (Juliette Lewis) and decides to go on a killing spree with the agreeable teen. But this is not the classical and almost meditative kind of spree that the kids in Badlands engage in. Mickey and Mallory raise a ruckus, and end up on the front page of papers and in tabloid TV shows across the land. Pursued most actively by a cop (Tom Sizemore) and a TV reporter (Robert Downey, Jr.), the duo can only escape from society for so long. They are apprehended, tried, and, for some reason, housed in the same prison. Mickey uses an appearance on Downey's show to find Mallory and ace an escape plan, leading to one of the longest and bloodiest and most surreal sequences in American cinema.

Natural Born Killers is almost non-stop visual pyrotechnics. Everything from cartoons to sitcoms lend their form to the story of Mickey and Mallory. Stone lets loose, and the result is awe-inspiring. Sure, Stone is trying to make some kind of statement about our complicity in media violence, but you don't have to pay any attention to that. The film's ideas are linked to the form, but the form is so overwhelming, and the story so fun and unpredictable, that Stone has attained something akin to pure sensuous cinema. Like Kubrick's reaction to his own A Clockwork Orange, the film's reputation as an inciter to violence has dogged him in dire ways ever since, but on DVD one can study how complex yet elegant the film really is.

Because of a company policy that won't allow it to release unrated or NC-17 rated tapes or DVDs, Warner offers the theatrical version of the film in its boxed set of Oliver Stone films (Trimark released the unrated director's cut of the film on DVD). However, this disc only lacks two extra minutes of additional images. The single-sided, dual-layer disc, with a beautiful 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 track in English (there's also French 2.0 track), is almost all that the viewer could want, though fanatics will still need to own both versions. The disc comes with six deleted scenes that have appeared on other DVDs and Laserdiscs: Mickey and Mallory meeting the Indian shaman in the desert, the nine-minute courtroom scene with Mickey killing the excellent Ashley Judd with a pencil; video interviews by Downey with the Hun Brothers and Stephen Wright as a shrink; and a rant by a Denis Leary, all in full frame and with optional introductions by Stone. Also on hand is an alternate ending that puts a caper on M&M and features Arliss Howard. There's also "Chaos Rising: The Storm around Natural Born Killers," a 26-minute "making of" featurette; and Stone making an 11-minute appearance on the Charlie Rose Show. Finally there is the theatrical trailer (in full frame), talent files on four actors and Stone; and a static musical menu with 40-chapter scene-selection.

— D. K. Holm

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