This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Martin Scorsese‘s newest film Killers of the Flower Moon is based on the book by David Grann of the same name and tells the story of the heinous murders that took place in the 1920s against the members of the Osage nation in Oklahoma, also known as the Reign of Terror. More than that, it traverses through a potent love story between Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone) that makes what appears on-screen even more heartbreaking.
‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ Review: A Heinous History Told Magnificently by Martin Scorsese
Returning home from World War I, Ernest meets up with his Uncle William Hale (Robert De Niro) in Osage County where he is invited into the white-ran empire Hale has curated — a land and people, rich with oil money, that he has provided for and has his demonic, old thumb right on top of. Ernest begins driving Mollie in and out of town, eventually pursuing what appears to be an authentic relationship with her. As time goes on, Hale’s plan is revealed — to ultimately win over the oil headrights of all Osage women and take their money. Plain and simple. Devilish and dastardly.
With a lengthy runtime of 3 hours and 26 minutes, I can tell you with the utmost honesty that the film felt at most 2 hours. The world that Scorsese is able to create and immerse you in is some of the most full-breadth filmmaking of this year, if not this decade. From the first moment of the film, you are encapsulated in not only the Osage nation and their story, but also the infiltration of Hale, Ernest, and their ghoulish white accomplices with their sparks of violence and manipulation of truth. Sure, it sounds long, and sure, it is long, but when you are watching a cinematic genius tell a story as important as this it’s easy to become engrossed.
‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ Boasts Killer Performances From Its Cast
Leonardo DiCaprio turns in a stoic, yet complex performance that only he could. There are moments of his that haven’t left my mind due to the haunting authenticity that he delivers. Of course, De Niro is excellent, as one would expect in seeing him reunited with Scorsese for the first time since 2019’s The Irishman, and Jesse Plemons delivers a piercing performance under short screen time — something he is continually becoming known for.
But, the true lightning of the film is Lily Gladstone; she is the core; the heartbeat. The visual representation of the heartbreak, anger, disappointment, and so much more going on with not just her character but the Osage nation as a whole. Her performance is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a film — I’m not even kidding you. Gladstone’s ability to convey such deep, complex, and mutating emotion through just the look on her face is something special. The small, simple sentences that slice through the screen are something of true talent. All hail queen Lily Gladstone.
‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ Is a Film About the Osage, Not an Osage Film
Of course, with a story such as this one, it’s important to consciously challenge the aspect of an Osage story being told through the lens of a white man (Ernest) under the direction of a white male (Scorsese). In a recent video from The Hollywood Reporter, an Osage consultant brought about important criticism of the film, noting the lack of storytelling from Mollie’s perspective and that an Osage story would really require an Osage to create it.
While this couldn’t be more accurate and is important to highlight, Scorsese accomplishes something profound with what he does create — a monumental film of the utmost historical importance told in the best way he knows how. A story about the poisoning of a man’s soul and his futile search for justification and admonishment for the evils he has committed. See what I mean about a complex story?
The film pierces the senses much like a poison would — slowly encapsulating you while progressively quickening your deadly journey to an explosive finality. The final shot, hell the final 5 minutes, are something I won’t soon forget. I will undoubtedly see Killers of the Flower Moon again. And probably a third time. There is so much to understand and unpack that lies beyond the surface of such a significant story that it wholeheartedly deserves multiple viewings.
We are living in a special time in which we get to see one of, if not the single greatest living filmmaker create such profound works of art. Masterpieces to be cherished for years to come. Projects that challenge not only the world of filmmaking (the snake-like camera movements in this movie left me in awe), but the world of storytelling — what is possible and what is necessary.
Killers of the Flower Moon is another phenomenal addition to Scorsese’s oeuvre, which is already full of such concrete pieces of cinematic history. I’m still figuring out how to grasp the countless intricacies of the film even after writing out these thoughts. That should be enough to tell you that this movie is truly something special.
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'Killers of the Flower Moon' Review'Killers of the Flower Moon' Review
- Lily Gladstone gives an Oscar-worthy performance that will stay with you long after the film has ended
- Scorsese on the big screen. What more is there to say?
- Opens up complex conversations of important historical events and their on-screen portrayal
- A few performances in the film can feel out of place
- It's a long movie; worth it, but long