This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
BY JACK RANSOM OCTOBER 9, 2023
After the release of The Irishman back in 2019, which arrived in a whirlwind of critical acclaim, an overblown budget, a grating limited theatrical run, a new generation of streaming watchers discovering that films over 2 hours long do exist and most notably a still ongoing clickbait headline driven non-controversy about his outlook on the current state of cinema. Since then the latter debate is still very much raging and more prevalent than ever before. More so proving Scorsese’s point correctly: with comic book films seemingly finally delivering a substantial sense of fatigue and streamers burning out with their endless content streams.
Not only are all of Scorsese’s opinions on the cinematic landscape true, but with Killers of the Flower Moon he backs his own claims up and offers us something monumental both in its technical scope and scale, and its narrative power and importance, that really we had been sorely missing since Oppenheimer (we truly have been blessed with both of these arriving on the big screen this year). Armed with a mammoth yet entirely necessary 3 hour 30 minute runtime, Scorsese and co. immerse you in the fascinating culture and history of the Osage and deliver an intense and brooding investigatory crime thriller.
Based on a true story, Killers of the Flower Moon is told through the improbable romance of Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone). Set in the 1920s, members of the Osage Native American tribe of Osage County, Oklahoma, attract the attention of devious white interlopers, due to their oil wealth. After murders begin cropping up across the county, the FBI decides to investigate.
Structurally and thematically, Ernest Burkhart’s (DiCaprio) journey is very familiar territory that both DiCaprio and Scorsese have visited before in pictures such as The Departed, Shutter Island, Gangs of New York and The Wolf of Wall Street. Ernest begins as an outsider, being welcomed by his Uncle (Robert De Niro) with open arms and embraced by the Osage community, however as the corruption spreads, morality chips away into bloodshed all around and both Ernest and Mollie learn that not everyone can be trusted.
It’s clear just how personal this material was to Scorsese (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and how much vitriol and contempt he has towards those who committed these atrocities (of which have very much been buried in the confines of American history). The substantial time spent on the Osage’s culture, methodologies and way of life, with plenty of carefully and patiently presented traditions and a palpable sense of unity resonate off the screen. The white integrators, do not come off positively at all, with Scorsese delving into the cutthroat greed, false fronts and manipulative nature of William Hale’s (De Niro) looming presence over the community.
With $200 million behind the production of course this looks absolutely spectacular. Huge, authentically immersive sets, littered with extras and beautifully crafted props and costumes transport you to the 1920’s effortlessly. As gargantuan as this all is, there are so many intimate, close quarters and meticulously constructed interior scenes that allow the actors to showcase their abilities in fully captures glory. Schoonmaker is on the top of her game once again, as she constructs this behemoth masterfully. Also, the genius epilogue is a wholly unique way of presenting the atypical paragraphs of facts that frequently precede end credits in true story features.
The performances are simply phenomenal. DiCaprio adds another ‘career best’ to his already stacked pile. He brings so much to Ernest, making him a fascinating presence. Oftentimes charming, yet also heavily conflicted, anxious, unpredictable and morally skewed. There are couple of scenes here (of which I won’t spoil) that are undeniably some of the best of both he and Scorsese’s careers. De Niro is a calmly menacing and looming presence. Not to be fooled by his aged, wearing exterior, the eyes and inflections paint an entirely different picture and allows us to peer into the cruelty and greed behind the eyes. Lily Gladstone is remarkable in what is her first large scale breakout role. The trials and tragedy she perseveres her way through, her affection for Ernest and her family, as well as her growing paranoia and illness shows the range Gladstone possesses. Familiar faces Jesse Plemons, John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser (who unfortunately is a little too over-the-too here), provide notable supporting performances.
A striking, monolithic, slow burning epic that showcases staggeringly good performances from DiCaprio, De Niro and Lily Gladstone. At 80 years old Scorsese proves with Killers of the Flower Moon that he is still working at the top of his game and offers a late career touchstone, landmark feature that deserves the utmost respect and attention. Cannot wait to see this again.