Natural Born Killers

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Unlike the media it lampoons, I don't despise Natural Born Killers because it's violent; I despise it because it's shit. Honestly, are there any other films that are quite so heavy-handed, poorly executed and mind numbingly dull as Stone's turgid 'satire'? I can't think of many – it certainly must rank amongst the worst films of the 90s.

Of all the things I hate about the film, it's Mickey and Mallory themselves that I hate the most, especially as the film loves them. I mean, as much as the film tries to be a clever comment on the violence obsessed media, the film, despite itself, idolises these two losers – murders are filmed in slow-motion and different film stocks, and their love is portrayed as honest and true. Compare this with everyone else – all the other characters are liars, schemers and scumbags. But while any right thinking individual would have nothing but contempt for all of these characters, Stone allows Mickey and Mallory to come out clean at the other end. What a load of rubbish.

One of the most infuriating scenes in the film is when Mickey and Mallory go and visit a Native American. He talks gibberish for a while and then Mickey appears to go to sleep (I can't blame him; the scene strains for meaning in every frame and fails at every turn). Then while Mickey's sleeping he has a nightmare about being abused as a kid. However, when he wakes up, Mickey kills the Indian. Mallory's response is one of horror, saying, 'You killed life. He fed us.' Let it be noted that this is the only murder that Mickey and Mallory feel really bad about. And the only reason they feel bad about it is because the Indian gave them something. The lesson to be learnt here, so Mickey and Mallory appear to be saying, is that it's fine to kill people and not feel bad about it if they do nothing for you.

But that scene touches on another annoying element in the film – childhood abuse. Of course it's a fact that most violent people have either been abused or have come from a violent upbringing, but the film gives us that and nothing else – oh, they were abused, that's why they're the way they are, it all makes sense. Bollocks.

And all the segments to do with childhood are completely removed for reality. For example, Mallory's childhood is filmed like a sitcom, with laughs in the background as daddy feels up his daughter. But rather than be a clever comment on the corrupting influence of television, the sequence is so over the top that it feels like petulant whining. Boo hoo, daddy felt my bum. Look what he made me into. Again it's a gross oversimplification. And the burning of Mallory's mother is ridiculous. You were abused too, and you did nothing to save me. Therefore you deserve to be burnt to bits. What the fuck?

But despite all this, the film still tries to make us feel sorry for Mickey and Mallory. Just take the scene where the two of them get arrested. Mallory gets the crap beaten out of her and Mickey gets tasered before getting beaten up himself. But rather than weep tears at the excessive Rodney King-style police brutality, I could only think that the two deserved more punishment. They deserved a severe beating followed by a bullet in the brain. But alas the film never gave me this satisfaction, thus making it even more painful for me to watch.

However, the film did at least give me the satisfaction of seeing Mallory get maced. That was fun. And it's rather telling that while the film wants us to love the two mass murderers, it's the sleazy journalist, the evil cop and the wicked prison warden who are the most likable. And they're likable because, unlike Mickey and Mallory, they're not full of pious, sanctimonious BS. They're scum and they know it. But Mickey and Mallory are always justifying their actions, always claiming to be pure when they're anything but. It's infuriating.

Also annoying is Stone's filming style. He's obviously snorted too much blow and watched too many music videos, because the film uses different film stocks, skewed angles, stock footage and front and rear projection to nauseating effect. It's a mess. But of course, Stone probably thinks it's making a wonderful comment on the sensory overload that is present in our multi-channel, television obsessed culture. But no, the film has nothing intelligent to say about television, as anyone with half a brain knows that the masses are glued to the idiot box and that crass, ratings-obsessed journalists do nothing but desensitise the people who watch them. (A ridiculous detail in the film is when Mickey and Mallory visit the Indian. 'Too much TV' is projected onto them. It strains for profundity, but it ends up as being a visual trick more suited to a pretentious R.E.M. or Radiohead video.)

However, to briefly defend the film, I will say that Robert Downey Jr. is quite funny in parts (Tommy Lee Jones and Tom Sizemore also provide a couple of chortles, even though they play two-dimensional grotesques). And there's a segment in 'American Maniacs' that gave me a laugh. But what Stone doesn't realise is that the reality is even more ridiculous. Just watch World's Wildest Police Videos with Sheriff John Bunnell. Wayne Gale is tame in comparison, and nowhere near as disturbing or amusing.

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