Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Natural Born Killers

Grisham vs. Stone: A Clash of Titans, Part I

What Oliver Stone is to the film industry, John Grisham is to the literary world. A lawyer and Mississippi State Legislator from 1983 to 1990, Grisham has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a decade and a half. Every book he writes is virtually guaranteed bestseller status, and many of his books have been adapted into movies. His books have sold millions of copies, making Grisham one of the wealthiest authors of all time.

John Grisham
John Grisham

As an attorney and prominent literary figure, Grisham was an unlikely candidate to call for a First Amendment exception to be made in Stone's case. Attorneys and authors usually are among the first people to defend freedom of speech but, in this instance, Grisham could not be an objective outside observer. He had a specific interest in the case, namely his loyalty to and friendship with one of the victims: Bill Savage.

As previously mentioned, Grisham knew Savage from his years practicing law in DeSoto County. In an article published in the April 1996 issue of the Oxford (Miss.) American, Grisham described Savage as "soft-spoken, exceedingly polite, always ready with a smile and a warm greeting." When Grisham ran for the state legislature, Savage was one of his strongest and most loyal and encouraging supporters. On the night of his election victory in 1983, according to Grisham, Savage came up to him and told him, "The people have trusted you. Don't let them down."

After laying out the full sequence of events in his lengthy article, Grisham elaborates on his rationale for supporting the lawsuit against Stone and company. In a series of scathing paragraphs, he attacks Stone and his reasons for making the film. Grisham contended that, although Sarah and Ben were troubled youths, they "had no history of violence. Their crime spree was totally out of character" for them. As for the film, itself, Grisham called it "a horrific movie that glamorized casual mayhem and bloodlust. A movie made with the intent of glorifying random murder."

One of Stone's defenses of the movie was that it was supposed to be a satire on the media's and the public's glamorization of violence. However, Grisham laced into this explanation. "A satire is supposed to make fun of whatever it is attacking. But there is no humor in 'Natural Born Killers,'" he wrote. "It is a relentlessly bloody story designed to shock us and to further numb us to the senselessness of reckless murder. The film wasn't made with the intent of stimulating morally depraved young people to commit similar crimes, but such a result can hardly be a surprise. Oliver Stone is saying that murder is cool and fun; murder is a high, a rush; murder is a drug to be used at will. The more you kill, the cooler you are. You can be famous and become a media darling with your face on magazine covers. You can get by with it. You will not be punished."


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