Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese’s latest film Killers of the Flower Moon is a story Scorsese himself has said is one he’s been wanting to tell for some time and to do so, he’s recruited a couple of his favorites in Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. Set during the 1920s, this story explores the not-so-subtle eradication of the Osage Nation as members have been dying one-by-one under mysterious and even more so, suspicious circumstances. The Osage land is suddenly rich with oil, and it has brought out the vultures. The story centers on Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a veteran returning home from the war. He’s astute but far from strong-willed and there is a heavy sense the war changed him. Small nuances that are acted up excellently by DiCaprio.
His uncle known in the area as Willian “King” Hale (Robert De Niro), is a man of wealth who has brought roads and many other modernizations to the suddenly wealthy Osage Nation. It’s clear he has an angle. There’s a deceptiveness to this man who is everyone’s friend and De Niro dives into the seediness of the character with ease. When Ernest arrives with injuries from the war that prevent him accomplishing many physical tasks, Hale hires him on as a driver. It isn’t long before Ernest drives Mollie (Lily Gladstone), a member of the Osage Nation, around town. Hale plants the seed of potentially marrying Mollie in Ernest’s ear to maneuver his way into the inheritance and Ernest, eager to please his uncle, does end up marrying Mollie but because he’s actually fallen in love with her. However, as the bodies pile up and Mollie begins getting sick, the inner turmoil of morality and ethics will begin to cloud not just Ernest but the members of the Osage Nation that growingly realize the white men around them are far from allies.
Now there’s always a certain level of expectation when going into a Scorsese film. Even more so for me, Scorsese is my all-time favorite director, but I haven’t loved his recent films. Going in to Killers of the Flower Moon I was hoping for a good film, and what I watched was another piece of brilliant cinema from Martin Scorsese. From top-to-bottom this is a very strong film. The mechanics of this movie were perfectly dialed in. The cinematography is pristine. From the lush backdrops to the quiet emotionally driven moments this movie has an immersive visual atmosphere. Scorsese’s direction is deliberate, it’s very intimate both emotionally and when the splashes of striking violence come from out of nowhere to put you on edge. The editing is very smooth as well, and despite the over three-hour runtime Killers of the Flower Moon moves surprisingly well.
The score from Robbie Robertson in my opinion is the pulse of the film with a stripped down, percussive score that resonates so much more by doing less. There are so many moments during this film where the tones from Robertson will kick in, subtly heightening the mood of a given scene so effectively. This is a movie that already has a very strong emotionally infused plot that can genuinely connect to your heartstrings. So, when you add impressive work from the technical side the result is that much more of an immersive film as you sit back and feel your anger grow at the travesties being allowed to take place on the Osage Nation.
The performances are to no surprise another strong positive for this film. You’re rarely going to get shotty acting in a Scorsese flick and Killers of the Flower Moon is no different. De Niro is amazing as this vile character. He almost feels like he’s having fun in this role, and it makes his sadistic pursuit of wealth so much more natural and hard-hitting. DiCaprio delivers one of his better performances as a man that seems common on the outside but through mannerisms and speech patterns you can clearly feel many more nuances under the surface. Lily Gladstone however was the scene stealer as this woman put through so much pain and anguish as her family is essentially exterminated all around her. Gladstone’s moments of charm and awareness shine early on yet as her character is broken down, she completely nails the full spectrum of emotion. And that was something I loved about this film. All of the characters, even those that are unlikable, are given layers, and dimensions, and with this trio at the top of their game it plays fantastic onscreen as they navigate these roles.
The story is without question one that needs to be told and it’s certainly a compelling topic not many people may know of. This story of course is told from Ernest’s perspective and to be honest, with the performance of Gladstone this could have been switched. This doesn’t mean her character is not given proper time, nor does it mean the story tries to glorify the actions of others. I feel this story tells it from a perspective that explores more of (how) this infiltration of the Osage Nation was orchestrated, with the pain inflicted on the tribe members being the result. This keeps the tone of the film as more of a mystery instead of a harder hitting and a heavier emotional drama. Although I feel Killers of the Flower Moon still packs an emotional punch. However, this perspective of storytelling could be a drawback to some. Regardless, Killers of the Flower Moon is another cinematic triumph for Scorsese and a must-see on the big screen.
CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, Robert De Niro, Jesse Plemmons, John Lithgow, Tantoo Cardinal, Branden Fraser, Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, Jillian Dion DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese WRITER(S): Eric Roth, Martin Scorsese, David Grann DISTRIBUTOR: Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures RUNNING TIME: 206 minutes RATING: R (For violence, grisly images, and language) YEAR: 2023 LANGUAGE: English GENRE: Drama/Crime/History
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2023 SilverScreen Analysis