Viking Night: Natural Born Killers
By Bruce Hall
June 26, 2012
That’s too bad, because in the hands of someone with more taste, this film might have become the Network of the 1990s. Instead, you do end up leaning out the window yelling “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more”, but it’s for all the wrong reasons. Mickey and Mallory are two rural kids who fell in love against the wishes of her parents, whom they decide to murder as a means of compromise. Knowing their days are now numbered, they choose to spend what time they have left fulfilling every filthy, hedonistic desire, beginning with a lunchtime massacre along a lonely stretch of highway.
They’re clearly meant to be reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde. The film no doubt means to reference the grotesque zeal with which society and the media lionized them, and satirize how such a thing might happen today. Thusly, Mickey and Mallory are stalked by both a media hungry cop with selfish motives (Tom Sizemore) and a sleazy television host (Robert Downey, Jr.) who makes a living sensationalizing America’s most notorious criminals. It’s not a bad story so far, and if that were all there was to it, this might have turned out to be a decent movie.
In 1994, the Internet was still the domain of geeks and professors, but thanks to the cable TV explosion, the 24 hour entertainment cycle we take for granted today was already well underway. Tabloid journalism is something that makes us all feel dirty as it diminishes humanity and what it means to BE human. It encourages us to pass judgment on others based on the hollow facsimile we see on television. When you behave this way long enough, you diminish what it means to be a role model to the point where anyone can be a celebrity just by drawing attention to themselves.
Sadly, Stone has the restraint of a rutting boar, and therefore turns out to be his own best example. It’s clear what he’s trying to tell us, but his movie is all but consumed by its own braying libido. It’s so badly over-edited, so needlessly overproduced that any intended message is bound to get lost in the process of delivering it. It’s like the work of a freshman film student who took his first editing class and threw everything he just learned into one film. There’s a difference between the legitimate application of surrealism and a director who likes to add strange, meaningless flourish just because he CAN. This is the latter.
The film goes to great lengths to underscore the horrific childhood trauma suffered by its “protagonists,” but the movie never goes anywhere with that. There’s just too much time spent shouting, rather than making a point. Bonnie and Clyde were stupid hicks who killed 13 people, and ultimately seemed somewhat overwhelmed by the tragedy they’d unleashed. There is a sadly sympathetic angle to their story. In contrast, Mickey and Mallory’s ironic mugging removes any impulse to feel anything but revulsion toward them. Most people won’t care what their parents did to them - it’s easy to feel that anybody sick enough to kill 53 people for fun deserved whatever it was that made them evil.
Pepper all that showboating with Oliver Stone’s trademark Grumpy Cynicism, and you’ve got something that’s truly unpleasant to watch. Stone draws the same black and white conclusions about life as the people he seeks to lampoon and the fact that he goes to such lengths to avoid facing it often makes his work impossible to take seriously. Every company is corrupt. Every cop is a snickering clown. Every media personality (not Stone, of course) is a phony. There’s a sense of bitterness and anger and isolation in almost everything Oliver Stone does, but he’s long since forgotten how to harness and focus it into anything productive.
Mining your outrage is fine, provided you’re looking for meaning and not just taking it out on your audience. Natural Born Killers blames you for how bad it is, and believe me, it shows.