Review: For all its ambition and imperfections, Killers of the Flower Moon speaks volumes to Martin Scorsese’s enduring mastery of cinema, and for that reason, it’s a must-see.
In Martin Scorsese’s epic crime drama, Killers of the Flower Moon, we are transported back in time to the early 1920s, to the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, a land drenched in blood and oil. Adapted from David Grann’s best-selling book of the same name, Scorsese’s take on this dark chapter in American history takes us on a thrilling, if occasionally meandering, journey that showcases the director’s distinct cinematic style while exploring a unique angle on the source material.
At its core, Killers of the Flower Moon is a story of avarice and moral decay, a tale of murder and deception that exposes the darkest corners of the human soul. It delves into the gruesome conspiracy to systematically murder members of the Osage Nation in order to seize their vast oil wealth. With a hefty runtime, it’s a film that never shies away from its ambitions. And while its length can be occasionally felt, it’s a testament to the storytelling prowess of Martin Scorsese that it never becomes dull or feels like a drag.
The film is led by a trio of remarkable performances, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, and Robert De Niro at the helm. Each actor brings their A-game to the table, but it’s Gladstone who emerges as the unexpected star of the show, stealing every scene she graces. De Niro delivers a riveting late-career performance, reminding us why he’s considered a true legend of the silver screen. DiCaprio, while undeniably great, doesn’t quite reach the zenith of his previous roles like Titanic or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but that’s a testament to the lofty standards he’s set for himself.
The narrative unfolds through the eyes of DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart, a World War I veteran building a new life in Oklahoma. His connection to the Osage is deepened when he becomes part of Mollie Kyle’s family, played by the captivating Lily Gladstone. At the same time, Robert De Niro takes on the role of William Hale, Ernest’s sinister uncle who we quickly understand as the malevolent mastermind behind many of the gruesome murders that plague the Osage community. It’s through Burkhart’s perspective that we witness the unfolding drama, with Mollie serving as the skeptical and pivotal linchpin in the story. This is where Martin Scorsese’s interpretation of Grann’s source material differs most notably: the shift away from the FBI’s perspective in favor of a more intimate and personal angle.
Jesse Plemons, a suitable actor in his own right, takes a backseat in Killers of the Flower Moon due to this focus on the Burkhart family dynamics, though he still manages to bring depth to his character, Tom White, a former Texas Ranger tasked with solving the Osage murders. His presence, though muted, helps bridge the two narrative strands.
The film’s grandeur can occasionally work against it, particularly in the latter half when Lily Gladstone’s character becomes bedridden due to illness. It’s in these moments that the movie loses some of its tension, and one can’t help but feel the absence of her magnetic presence on screen. The plot does tend to slow down during these sequences, which speaks to Gladstone’s performance but also a momentary dip in the film’s overall pacing.
However, where Killers of the Flower Moon really takes some chances is in its editing. Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s long-time collaborator, navigates the film’s sprawling narrative, jumping from plot point to plot point and different moments in time. The film’s non-linear structure keeps the audience engaged, even if it’s occasionally confusing. While you may find yourself adjusting to the shifts in time and perspective, you never truly get lost in the intricate tapestry of the story.
Scorsese’s direction is as masterful as ever. He transports us to the era with stunning period detail, from the lavish costumes to the richly textured landscapes, capturing the essence of a bygone America. The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is nothing short of breathtaking, with sweeping shots of the Osage landscape and tense close-ups during moments of high drama.
Scorsese’s use of music in Killers of the Flower Moon is characteristically eclectic and inspired. The score by Robbie Robertson combines haunting Native American melodies with a modern sensibility, creating a soundscape that underscores the film’s emotional depth. The use of popular music from the time adds to the film’s authenticity, drawing us further into the world of the Osage Nation.
The ensemble cast, aside from the aforementioned leads, is also a highlight. Supporting players like Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, and Cara Jade Myers breathe life into their characters, making each of them feel essential to the unfolding drama. There’s a deep sense of authenticity in the performances that adds to the film’s immersive quality.
Killers of the Flower Moon is, in essence, a haunting exploration of a dark chapter in American history, one that uncovers the depths of human greed and corruption. It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of Scorsese’s storytelling, as he takes on a different perspective from the source material, offering a fresh angle on a well-documented story.
In the end, it’s a cinematic achievement that’s not without its flaws. The film’s runtime occasionally tests the patience of the viewer, and there are moments when the tension wanes. However, these minor quibbles are overshadowed by the film’s extraordinary performances, impeccable direction, and intricate narrative.
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As I reflect on Killers of the Flower Moon, I’m reminded of the words of the film’s characters: “The devil’s in the details.” Scorsese’s exploration of this dark chapter in history speaks to his ability to unearth the devil in those details, revealing the complex web of human motivations and betrayals. This is a film that lingers in the mind, leaving you with much to contemplate and discuss long after the credits roll.
For all its ambition and imperfections, Killers of the Flower Moon speaks volumes to Scorsese’s enduring mastery of cinema, and for that reason, it’s a must-see for anyone with a love for powerful storytelling and compelling performances. While not quite reaching the zenith of Scorsese’s greatest works, it’s a thought-provoking journey that deserves to be experienced, leaving you with much to ponder in the quiet moments after the lights come up. If you lend yourself the time and sink right into the story, you won’t regret it.
See Killers in the Flower Moon in theaters. The movie will eventually stream on Apple TV+.
Killers of the Flower Moon Film Cast and Credits
Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart
Robert De Niro as William King Hale
Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart
Jesse Plemons as Tom White
Tantoo Cardinal as Lizzie Q
Scott Shepherd as Byron Burkhart
Jason Isbell as Bill Smith
William Belleau as Henry Roan
Cara Jade Myers as Anna
John Lithgow as Prosecutor Peter Leaward
Brendan Fraser as W.S. Hamilton
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto
Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker
Composer: Robbie Robertson