Killers of the Flower Moon has been a long time coming. Martin Scorsese’s latest epic has been in the works for some time and this three-and-a-half-hour epic set in 1920s Oklahoma has been garnering early Oscar buzz. Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, Jesse Plemmons, Brendan Fraser, and more unite in a stellar cast written and directed by a true legend of cinema.
Based on a powerful true crime novel by David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon has Scorsese take a risk in turning a crime whodunnit into something much different. He chose to follow what he calls the ‘heart’ of the movie – the relationship between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart and the absolutely amazing Lily Gladstone playing Molly Kyle. It’s a long film with a huge first act where the scene is set. Oil is discovered by the Osage people and they become some of the richest people in the world. With such wealth comes danger and the chance for corruption. William ‘King’ Hale (an on form Robert DeNiro) is a local businessmen who seeks to get his cut of the Osage fortune through robbery, murder, and marriage and he manipulates his nephew Ernest into marrying Osage woman Molly Kyle as part of his dastardly plan. With Molly’s family falling foul to Hale’s plans one by one, suspicions grow but no one seems to care about the plight of the Osage people until word gets to Washington and a full investigation leads to further tension in Fairfax. The murders are grim and brutal and the lack of care from anyone nearby is sickening to watch in a tale based on truth. It is horrifying to see the way the powerful white man in Hale manipulates those who consider him a friend or family and then throws them away without a thought when they are not needed or when he stands to gain something from their death. He is a truly villainous character made all the more horrifying by the fact he is so human. DiCaprio and DeNiro both bring gravitas to their roles and the dark humour etched in the script is brilliant at times but it did sometimes feel that both actors had another fear to go into that was ignored. Instead it is Lily Gladstone’s performance as Molly that is the standout performance alongside those playing the haunted and persecuted Osage people. An Oscar nomination would not be a surprise.
The cinematography is stunning in Killers f the Flower Moon, as you would expect from a Scorsese film. The setting itself becomes a character, one haunted by the deaths of a proud people regretting the wealth thrust upon them and the changes it had brought. The story is heavy and full of intrigue as you watch Hale’s schemes play out but at times, I couldn’t help but feel that the story would have benefitted from a limited TV series on Apple instead of a release as a feature film. However, this is a true Scorsese film with an emphasis on big ideas found in small moments and the man is cinema personified. His name is up there with Kurosawa, Hitchcock and Spielberg amongst the list of greats and Killers of the Flower Moon is further roof of his expert craftsmanship, even if it may not be for everyone. It is not as entertaining as The Departed, witty as Goodfellas, or as raw as Raging Bull – but it has elements of all his great works and is a must watch for students of cinema.
Killers of the Flower Moon is a powerful, thought-provoking film full of beauty and grief. It has Scorsese’s incredible ability to blend epic scope with intimate moments and he draws out some incredible performances from a stacked cast. It is a film with a story that needs to be widely known but doesn’t quite hit the highs of his best work in terms of entertainment.