By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
A true story that remains relevant to this day. An informative character piece that studies a group of people who have too often found themselves silenced and their stories untold. Thrilling, captivating yet disturbing murder drama. From the outside, Killers of the Flower Moon seems to have it all.
Anticipation is high for Martin Scorsese’s latest feature film, the twenty sixth narrative picture of his illustrious career. With movies like Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, and more, Scorsese has cemented himself as an undoubted icon of cinema, championing original storytelling along the way. Killers of the Flower Moon represents the latest in his award-winning filmography, and one that seems the director reunite with two of his most frequent collaborators: Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro. The duo play nephew and uncle, Ernest Burkhart and William Hale, in the new film.
The story follows Burkhart as he enters a relationship with and marries a woman named Mollie, who is a member of the Osage tribe. As the opening of the film highlights, the Osage were once the richest group of people in the entire world after they discovered oil on their land. This made them a target for ambitious yet manipulative white men such as DiCaprio and DeNiro’s characters, as the two plot a wide ranging and time consuming plan to kill off members of Mollie’s family in order to inherit her wealth as their own. The film follows the family and the subsequent murders until they finally begin to get investigated by a group of government agents working for what would become the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The story of the plight of the Osage people at this time is one that is absolutely worth telling, and is therefore one of the highlights of this film. That over 100 Native Americans died under mysterious circumstances before any intervention was made is a showing of how much the system failed their society and its people, making this story even more of a tragedy. Scorsese takes his time to tell this story, intricately laying all of the pieces down and setting up the cavalcade of characters, which helps greatly as well.
Leonardo DiCaprio is a highlight among the cast, playing a dopey yet powerful individual who has a huge role in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Osage natives. DiCaprio has always been good at poking fun at his own characters through his performance, and he shows that strength once again here. Whereas DeNiro is the more of the brains behind the entire plan, DiCaprio’s character feels like the weakest link at times, particularly as he’s portrayed to have a (somewhat) genuine emotional connection with the wife he was urged to marry.
Lily Gladstone plays Mollie, and brings a level of authenticity to the role that is felt throughout. Gladstone is a Native American herself and has spoken openly about the importance of telling this story (prior to the SAG-AFTRA strikes, of course), and that passion comes through in her performance. In terms of the central three characters, Mollie is really the only likable one, making her the protagonist of the story (although her screen time would suggest otherwise). Gladstone portrays a pain in Mollie that helps further this tragic story as well; not only is this young woman losing family and friends to murder at an alarming rate, she’s being actively manipulated and hurt by her husband, suffering from diabetes, and poisoned throughout.
It’s certainly a positive that Scorsese took his time to tell this story, but the runtime still feels too long. Clocking in at a little under 3 and a half hours, Killers of the Flower Moon overstays its welcome in a way that might not go down well with casual movie going audiences. For Scorsese-heads, the longer the film the better, but it still feels as if the story can be told in a tighter way. Length doesn’t always equal quality, and although Scorcese has shown time and time again that he’s capable of making a film that is extremely long, Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t his best example of that.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the script for Killers of the Flower Moon centered on Jesse Plemons’ detective character, thus focusing on the story of the birth of the FBI. However, after consultation with Osage tribe members, some of whom are related to the victims seen in the film, the story pivoted to focus more on Mollie, her husband, and his family. Despite that clearly positive adjustment, it still feels as if Mollie could have been focused on more. DiCaprio and DeNiro are the villains, and Mollie is the hero that the audiences are rooting for. That being said, viewers are rarely able to get inside her head or understand what she’s feeling beyond the surface level, which feels like a missed opportunity to do some interesting character work.
Martin Scorsese returns to the director’s chair with Killers of the Flower Moon, a film that tells the heartbreaking true story of the murder of hundreds of Osage Native Americans. Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone are standouts in the cast, and the pair have the chemistry to convey a complicated and often tense relationship. Despite the compelling nature of the story, the length hinders the film come the end, and there are some missed opportunities to get deeper into the psyche of Mollie.