Killers of the Flower Moon Movie Review
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Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Martin Scorsese is one of the best directors of all time. Likely top three and arguably number one with his nine (and soon to be 10) Oscar nominations. Taxi Driver (1976). Raging Bull (1980). Goodfellas (1990). And more recently the spectacular Wolf of Wall Street (2013). The man is a legend. But as he ages, his ego seems to be getting in the way of his art. It started in 2019 when Scorsese claimed that superhero films are “not cinema,” finding the closest comparison to them being theme parks. The comment infuriated comic book fans everywhere and ignited a debate as to what is cinema. As Scorsese wrote in an op-ed, cinema is “about characters – the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.” To Scorsese, cinema is an “art form” and superhero films aren’t that. Yet, like him, cinema has aged and that includes what people consider art – or perhaps entertainment. A comment like that feels more like an elderly person who can’t grasp how film has evolved over the last few decades. Yes, Scorsese hit a home run with Wolf of Wall Street and yes, his last film The Irishman (2019) was a hit with critics (his films always are), but with his films now running three hours and longer, it’s almost as if the man forgot how to edit a film! Scorsese’s films are always character-driven, but as he ages, his films are getting closer and closer to the number of minutes he has lived! Which brings us to Scorsese’s newest film, Killers of the Flower Moon (2023).
Based on the 2017 nonfiction book of the same name by David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon tells the story of the Osage Nation, a Native American tribe that over the years continued to lose their claims to land, but after settling in Oklahoma, soared to great wealth when they discovered oil in the late 1800s. Like the book, Scorsese’s film focuses on the dozens of murders that occurred in the early 1900s as a result of the Osage Nation’s prosperity which made them the richest per capita in the world at one point.
William Hale (Robert De Niro), known as the “King of Osage Hills”, was a wealthy cattle farm owner who for years maintained a close relationship with the Osage people. They trusted him as if he was one of them. After bringing his nephew Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) to live with him and putting him to work as a driver, King, as he prefers to be called, encourages Ernest to fall for one of the Osage members as they hold headrights (legal rights to land) worth a large amount of money. Ernest does and eventually marries Mollie (Lily Gladstone), but is it because he is in love with her or because of his allegiance to his uncle? Ernest and Mollie settle down and start a family, but as a series of Osage murders play out around their family and Mollie gets closer to full headrights for her family, questions arise as to who is behind the killings.
The film soars primarily because of its fascinating true story about greed and its first-rate cast led by oft-collaborators DiCaprio (his sixth film with Scorsese) and De Niro (his 10th film with the accomplished director) alongside breakout star, Gladstone. There’s no world where these three are not nominated for an Oscar. Despite having played bad guys in the past, never has De Niro played a more morally repugnant, morally bankrupt character before. DiCaprio perfectly captures the conflict between good and evil. And Gladstone makes you feel every pain in her body. The cinematography is top notch and the supporting cast (including a few surprising cameos) is as strong as its three lead stars. Yet again Scorsese succeeds with a beautifully filmed masterpiece, but one questions why the film cost over $200 million, especially as far more exciting superhero films cost nearly the same – wink, wink, nudge, nudge. The 206-minute running time is stupid long making a slow burn feel like an inferno. And the way that the film finishes takes away from the first (far too long) 185 or so minutes. Scorsese will score another Oscar nomination, but like eight out of his nine nominations, he will deservingly go home empty-handed.
Killers of the Flower Moon will shock people for a number of reasons. Most people have never heard about these killings despite a reported 60 Osage being murdered. Seeing “the white man” work for Native Americans is the opposite of how many people have understood the relationship between Americans and Indian tribes in the past. Others will be surprised to learn that the FBI’s investigation into the Osage Nation murders was the bureau’s first murder case. And lastly, that a movie this long doesn’t have an intermission. I mean, seriously, a person has to pee! Perhaps it’s a good thing that the film is only playing in theaters for a limited time before moving to streaming platform Apple TV+ because at least home people have a pause button.
Critics will salivate over this film as they did for The Irishman, but like that film, viewers will be far fewer than for past Scorsese hits as he appears to be on a new kick of creating films for critics rather than today’s filmgoer. Mad respect for his viewpoint on what cinema should be, but for G-d’s sake, can someone please remind him that there is a cutting room floor for a reason?! Bring a catheter to the theater or keep that remote at home handy because as strong as the performances are in this film, this one is 30 minutes too long and jeopardizes the power of its story.