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Natural Born Killers: The Director’s Cut


‘…this story of criminal youth gone mad in an even madder world was strong meat in 1995, and still retains some political edge in 2023…’

Perhaps he never was that terrible an enfant, or maybe he’s just been superseded by newer models, but the obsessions of Oliver Stone are probably worth a look from 2023. Warnings about the military-industrial complex? Check. Anxieties about the rising lawlessness within the media and the moral atrophy caused by reality television? Check. Conspiracy theories about government agencies and law enforcement used for nefarious purposes? Check. Fears of some kind of racist, Nazi-sympathising extremist streak metastasising within America? Check. Sure, Stone wasn’t sitting like Nostradamus with a firm grip on exactly how all of this would play out, but his grasp of what would prove to be the key themes of 21st century America turned out to be not far off the mark.

Hits like Platoon, Wall Street and JFK made Stone the premiere poet at the picnic during the Reagan years and beyond, with a remit for capturing changing times; Natural Born Killers, however, was originally conceived by new-kid-on-the block Quentin Tarantino, and Stone took his story concept and promptly junked his script, much to his annoyance (Tarantino says he still hasn’t seen NBK, although he’s worked with many of the key creative crew, including DoP Robert Richardson who shot Once Upon A Time in Hollywood). Stone wanted to do his own thing, and got it; this story of criminal youth gone mad in an even madder world was strong meat in 1995, and still retains some political edge in 2023.

In fact, it’s Trent Reznor’s soundtrack that’s probably the best way in here; mixing ads, music, dialogue and all kinds of other elements to fuse together a unique aural accompaniment to Stone’s no-metaphor–too-obvious images of desert predators, snakes and scorpions, dank old horror movie imagery from the likes of Night of the Lepus, and that new fangled reality tv. Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis play Mickey and Mallory Knox with some verve, two serial killers whose horrid victims always kinda deserve their deaths; they’re caught in the wake of the opening diner massacre and end up separated in the supermax-slammer run by warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones). But escape, redemption and the world descending into hell are all just around the corner, with Robert Downey Jr as Australian television mogul Wayne Gale proving to be the corrosive agent that ignites the cleansing fire of mob violence. Mickey and Mallory clean house by the final credits, always leaving one victim alive to tell the tale of what they’ve done, and that victim is us…

This isn’t the day-glo, bubble-gum romance of Tony Scott’s more-faithful-to-Tarantino True Romance, but a far darker beast; Rodney Dangerfield has a memorable turn as Mallory’s abusive father, and Stone is happy to pinpoint da media as the deadbeat dad who won’t take responsibility for anything. ‘Let me tell you something, this is the 1990’s, alright? In this day and age a man has to have choices, a man has to have a little bit of variety…’ says Mickey, who holds himself in high esteem as a multi-tasking media player. Mickey is ‘the best thing to happen to murder since Manson.’ Gale agrees, calling the moody superstar ‘the most dangerous man in America’ while planning to shock his core audience with fake stories about ‘homeless transsexual veterans’. Sure, there’s no internet around for us to blame, but Stone’s overall thesis/equation is pretty sound. NBK is violent from the get-go, with blood-splattered shootings and flames of eye-gouging burnt orange and yellow, plus cameos from Edie McClurg, Tom Sizemore and Steven Wright. Stone even uses footage from his own version of Scarface to make sure that we get the point; everyone is responsible for the mess, and absolutely nobody is without sin for turning the US into one gigantic crime scene.



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    • I also have also somehow managed to never see this, despite it being on my “to watch” list for about 20 years. Might be time to finally cross this one off the list.

      • I’ve tried to make a case for it’s relevance; although there was no internet, all the things we blame it for were already firmly in place in the media. It’s in Stone style, not Tarantino, and that sank its reputation for a while…but a good watch with tonnea to discuss…

  1. Haven’t seen this since it came out. Remember it as being jumbled but lively. Is Tarantino’s script floating around somewhere or is it lost?

    • Less jumbled than I remembered. You know, I think I’ve got a big pile of papers with Tarantino’s original script in, I’ll see if I can dig it out. Remember it being way better than the script used here, but its apples and oranges, innit? Surprised with Tarantino’s passion of meddling with his own work that he’s not filmed his own original script to show what he feels that Stone did wrong. There’s room for two versions IMHO.

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