BY ALEX LAVINSON
Martin Scorsese is widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers ever, and for good reason. Over the course of more than fifty years, Scorsese has directed 26 narrative feature films, been nominated for 14 Academy Awards and, above all, maintained critical consistency, something very few filmmakers have proven capable of – especially for that long.
It therefore comes as no surprise that “Killers of the Flower Moon” is an exceptional film.
Adapted from the 2017 novel, the October-released film is based on true events that occurred in the early 20th century. It tells the story of the Osage people of Oklahoma, an Indigenous tribe that became wealthy after oil was found beneath their land.
Throughout the film, the Osage fall victim to murder, corruption and greed, as a group of money-hungry outsiders conspire to inherit their money by marrying into Osage families and slowly dismantling them. It’s a difficult story to stomach, but Scorsese’s delicate construction makes the watch beyond worthwhile.
The film’s brilliance starts with Scorsese’s narrative clarity. While following a simple cinematic structure, Scorsese and his team master the arts of pacing, editing and photographing. The film offers a near-perfect balance between visual and auditory storytelling, leaving none of its own questions unanswered.
The performances are just as strong. Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role of Ernest Burkhart is as great as always. The same goes for Robert De Niro, who plays the sly and manipulative William King Hale. For me, the standout of the cast is actress Lily Gladstone, who shines in a career-defining performance as Mollie Burkhart, the film’s lead Osage voice and emotional centerpiece.
Gladstone’s deeply expressive faces drive the film’s humanity, along with its overbearing sense of grief. Without Gladstone, the film doesn’t work, as it’s her perspective that allows the audience to feel immersed in the story.
It is also Scorsese’s dedication to the Osage community that allows this flower to bloom. Scorsese goes out of his way to ensure that their story, one that took place before he was born and in another region, is personal to him. He even interjects himself into the film’s waning moments in a heartfelt manner (I will not spoil).
However, as much as this film strives to be perfect, I noticed a few areas where it isn’t. After all, this film is almost three-and-a-half hours long; it’s bound to have flaws. And despite not being Scorsese’s longest to date – falling just three minutes short of “The Irishman” (2019) – I certainly felt its length.
There were several times throughout the movie when I felt disengaged, even if only for a minute or two. Plus, as good as the pacing was, the film isn’t exactly an exercise in speed. It requires patience. And, honestly, it’s hard to be patient when the protagonist is slowly but surely revealing himself to be an utterly despicable human being.
Additionally, the film doesn’t exactly embellish itself with personality. Compared to past Scorsese works, such as “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) and “The Departed” (2006), “Killers of the Flower Moon” almost feels ordinary. It doesn’t bounce off the walls with colorful characters and heated interactions or comedy crafted out of selfish behavior. Yet maybe that’s for the best.
After all, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is honest. It’s a film about an underrepresented group of people that are exploited for money for no better reason than shameless greed. It’s a film that uncovers the darkest parts of the human psyche in hopes of never witnessing them again. And it’s a film that is genuinely heartfelt and sincere. 8/10.