Film Review: Killers of the Flower Moon
Killers of the Flower Moon
Director: Martin Scorsese
Sikelia Productions and Appian Way
In Theaters: 10.20
In a career spanning nearly five decades, Martin Scorsese is known both for gritty crime dramas and grand period pieces. The director combines both of these genres with his latest work, Killers of the Flower Moon, which chronicles a true and disturbing chapter in the dark history of American colonialism and capitalism.
Killers of the Flower Moon begins with the discovery of oil on the Osage Nation Reservation in 1897. Every member of the Osage tribe is entitled to royalties on oil production, as are their heirs, and soon they become some of the richest people in the world. The story jumps forward to the 1920s, as war veteran Ernest Burkhart (Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant) moves to Osage County, where his uncle, William King Hale (Academy Award winner Robert De Niro, The Godfather Part II, Raging Bull) is a man of influence and means who holds a lot of clout with the Osage people. Hale encourages Ernest to find a wife, and when Ernest meets Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone, Certain Women), the two quickly fall in love and wed, though living happily ever after isn’t meant to be. As Hale exerts his influence, Ernest finds himself being drawn further into a conspiracy of manipulation, plunder and cold-blooded murder.
Killers of the Flower Moon is a spellbinding story, rich with detail and told with great intent and conviction. By deviating from David Gann‘s 2017 book of the same name and shifting the focus from Federal Investigator Tom White (Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog) to Ernest as the lead character, Scorsese has saved his epic from becoming another condescending, white savior story. Instead, it’s a dark and unflinching white devil tale, and the auteur filmmaker keeps his audience positioned as kindly, welcomed outsiders. All the while, Scorcese is slowly pulling us into the point of view of an opportunist without a moral compass, who sees a chance to grab a piece of something and can’t help but keep reaching for more. It’s a daring approach that pays off handsomely and gives Killers of the Flower Moon the distinctive perspective of a Scorsese picture even as it stands as something refreshingly new. While the movie is quite violent and occasionally graphic, Scorsese resists the urge to revel in blood-soaked shock value the way he did in Gangs of New York or even The Departed, recognizing that it would undermine the seriousness of the subject matter.
DiCaprio is at the top of his game here, playing neither the pretty boy type he was known for in his 20s or the intense tough guy of his 30s. Ernest is a slack-jawed, snaggle-toothed dullard, a follower who is incapable of being a true protagonist in his own life, even if he’s the focal character of the film. Gladstone is both the anchor and the heart of the film, keeping it from drifting away from the story of the people who were victimized as she creates an emotional connection with the Osage people, even though the story isn’t told from their point of view. The soulful realism of Gladstone’s performance—especially the quiet depth of despair conveyed primarily through her stirringly expressive eyes—makes her the standout in a cast full of standouts. De Niro is a towering presence, reminding us why he’s a legend in his own time. De Niro and DiCaprio have each headlined numerous Scorsese pictures, but never together, and seeing the two share the screen for the first time since This Boy’s Life in 1993 is quite a treat. The late Robbie Robertson‘s brilliant musical score is almost a character in its own right, combining strings, harmonica and woodwinds to create a unique flavor that is alternately lively and haunting.
Killers of the Flower Moon is a brilliant achievement and a sobering reminder of the violence and greed indelibly sewn into the tapestry of American history. It’s not an uplifting or hopeful film, yet it should leave audiences with a lot to digest and discuss. Even at 206 minutes, it had me riveted the entire time. Killers of the Flower Moon is an unforgettable experience and a true work of art. In a word, it’s cinema. –Patrick Gibbs
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