Killers of the Flower Moon (2023, dir. Martin Scorsese)

by | Oct 17, 2023

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 206 mins

UK Distributor: Paramount Pictures

UK Release Date: 20 October 2023

WHO’S IN KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON?

Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser, Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, Jillian Dion, Jason Isbell, William Belleau, Louis Cancelmi, Scott Shepherd, Everett Waller, Talee Redcorn, Yancey Red Corn, Tatanka Means, Tommy Schultz, Sturgill Simpson, Ty Mitchell, Gary Basaraba, Charlie Musselwhite, Pat Healy, Steve Witting, Steve Routman, Michael Abbot Jr., Jack White, Pete Yorn, Larry Sellers, Barry Corbin, Steve Eastin, Katherine Willis, Gene Jones, Larry Fessenden, Elden Henson

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Martin Scorsese (director, writer, producer), Eric Roth (writer), Dan Friedkin, Daniel Lupi and Bradley Thomas (producers), Robbie Robertson (composer), Rodrigo Prieto (cinematographer), Thelma Schoonmaker (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In 1920s Oklahoma, a series of indigenous murders leads to a federal investigation…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON?

It’s funny how, for a filmmaker who has dabbled in several genres throughout his career from gangster flicks to comedies to even all-out musicals, Martin Scorsese has largely resisted the urge to make that most classic of movie genres: the Western. The auteur’s keen eye for an epic scope, as well as a deep passion for telling dark and depraved stories at the heart of Americana, has long been proven to be perfectly apt for the genre, but until now he’s kept away from the type of movie that made names out of fellow legends of cinemas like Sergio Leone and John Ford (whose 1956 film The Searchers is on record as being among Scorsese’s all-time favourites).

Having finally given into the urge with Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese has made a very different kind of Western than the traditional one that’s long been ingrained into our minds. On the surface, it has just about everything such a film could ever need: a vast countryside setting, distinct Southern accents, men parading about in Stetsons on cattle ranches, and a heavy presence of Native American citizens. But at its centre is a pitch-black heart that exposes the purely evil nature of certain pioneers of the West, and how the pursuit of the American dream can lead to dire and even deadly consequences for those who are unfortunate enough to be in the crosshairs. It’s gripping stuff, all by a filmmaker who doesn’t hold back on the sheer epic quality of his bleak and non-romanticised vision of the classic Western, which makes for one of the year’s most challenging films.

Taking place in the 1920s, we quickly learn that the Native Osage tribe, which had previously been forced from their homes and onto a seemingly barren piece of land in Oklahoma, had become phenomenally wealthy after oil was discovered underneath the plains. Their wealth has attracted the attention of several people across the country, including businessman William Hale (Robert De Niro) who has built a stable and fatherly relationship with the tribe, and whose nephew Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) has arrived in the prosperous Osage County to work for his influential uncle.

Ernest, who isn’t exactly the brightest individual, quickly gets roped into Hale’s scheme to draw money from the Native locals, which includes romancing and eventually marrying the affluent Mollie (Lily Gladstone), and – more sinisterly – ordering the deaths of several figures within the tribe, including members of Mollie’s family. The murders eventually attract the attention of the then-new Federal Bureau of Investigation, and with agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons) leading the charge, the full extent of Hale and Burkhart’s evil deeds becomes ever clearer.

Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth adapt the non-fiction book of the same name by David Grann, and their screenplay is packed to unfathomable tightness with details surrounding the Osage murders, the later FBI investigation, the lives of those who fell victim to the killers, and even the central uneven romance that forms between DiCaprio’s Ernest and Gladstone’s Mollie. Make no mistake, it is a lot to process, with Scorsese not wasting a second of the gargantuan 206-minute running time – only the second-longest narrative film of his career, just three minutes behind his 2019 gangster epic The Irishman – as he takes the audience on a long and uncomfortable journey into the dark soul of this historical travesty. It’s a movie where you certainly feel the length, in part thanks to its slow pace which takes its sweet time on a number of things, no matter how insignificant they may seem, but Scorsese is a masterful enough storyteller to still hold your attention as more and more shocking details are revealed, including just how deep the deadly conspiracy runs within certain townsfolk, from common criminals to even doctors and lawyers.

As a director, Scorsese has almost never shied away from displaying a profound fluency in the language of cinema, even in the more contemporary films of his career, and with Killers of the Flower Moon he leans heavily to an old-school style of epic filmmaking that accentuates the sheer beauty of telling such massive stories on an equally large scale. With Rodrigo Prieto’s often dazzling cinematography, which contains some of the most stunningly executed shots you’ll see in a movie this year, as well as some intricately designed sets and steady editing by long-time collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker all at his helm, Scorsese gives plenty of cinematic life to a story that leaves you unnerved and even miserable for most of it, while also still finding room to play around with certain styles and a light sense of humour. The film’s lively epilogue, a very original and highly creative take on the standard “what happened next?” info dump that often concludes based-on-truth movies like this, is especially poignant in how it not only fits the overall tone of the film, but also makes you look back on a number of underlying themes with a much more sobering retrospective.

Brilliantly made, effortlessly acted – Scorsese regulars DiCaprio and De Niro are great, but it is Lily Gladstone who emerges as the film’s MVP with a haunted and deeply humanised performance that is almost bound to earn her plenty of warranted attention this upcoming awards season – and above all a flat-out epic, Killers of the Flower Moon is undoubtedly excellent, and surely one of the year’s best films.

However, I can easily see it not winning over a ton of audience appraisal, primarily because it is extremely long and slow-paced (no matter how necessary the length ends up being) as well as its somewhat heavy and morose subject matter that isn’t exactly cheery. But in a year that has seen long, adult-oriented blockbusters find their way back into the limelight (primarily thanks to Oppenheimer, which you could argue deals with even more disturbing themes and subject matter than this film does), I have a feeling that most will be able to stomach this lengthy but astounding Western epic by one of our finest-ever filmmakers.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Killers of the Flower Moon is an astonishing Western epic by the legendary Martin Scorsese, who deals with heavy subject matter over a gargantuan running time, but makes it so compelling and often beautiful through the cinematic lens.

Five out of five stars

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