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Scorsese’s latest is worth the time


Killers of the Flower Moon is the newest film by Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, based off of the book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as World War 1 veteran Ernest Burkhart, Robert De Niro as Ernest’s uncle William King Hale, and Lily Gladstone as Mollie Kyle, Ernest’s wife. 

The book, published in 2017, is the account of the Osage Murders in Oklahoma in the early 1920s. The Osage Natives were the richest people per capita in the United States, which naturally caught the attention of greed-driven white settlers. That premise automatically creates a feeling of realism for the film, as it can be assumed that anything depicted in the film actually happened. 

The film opens showing the Osage oil boom, and quickly establishes them as incredibly wealthy people with a great influence on the town. It also establishes that many white settlers marry into Osage families, in order to gain money and power. In 1919, Ernest Burkhart returns from the war to live with his uncle and his brother Byron. He works as a cab driver in the town and becomes smitten by Mollie Kyle, an Osage woman whose family controls oil headrights. Time passes and members of Mollie’s family begin to be murdered following her marriage to Ernest, who follows behind his uncle with no hesitation or remorse for the heinous crimes he commits. 

A common cause of criticism is that the book plays out more like a mystery from the perspective of the FBI. The film doesn’t hide much from the audience and explains who the villains are. While it sacrifices intrigue, the film uses that to tell a truly horrific and gut-wrenching story. It flips the script when the audience realizes that it’s hard to root for anyone except for Mollie. 

The scenes depicting murder and violence are shot from far away, utilizing wide angles to demonstrate the suddenness of it all. One scene shows a conversation between two men in a car. It is quiet as the camera slowly pulls back as one man shoots the other man in the head. The scenes are grim, yet they manage to relegate the violence into quick bursts, never lingering too long. 

The sound design adds to the film in a unique way. An early scene depicts a man being attacked in an alleyway and stabbed multiple times, very quietly. As opposed to other films, there is no sound as the man is stabbed, save for his muffled grunts. The lack of sound makes the scene even more disturbing, making it feel as if it could happen at any moment. 

With a runtime that dwarfs Oppenheimer, Killers of the Flower Moon has a slow pace and is not a mere popcorn flick. The time it takes to set up the events of the last 90 minutes is generous, yet no scene feels overlong or meandering. It places the audience in the world and allows them to experience the events from a distance, as though they were watching actual events unfold. 

The soundtrack by Robbie Robertson (composed before his death in August) sounds and feels like the 1920s, mixing blues with percussion and Native American songs. 

Scorsese’s films have long been celebrated for their performances, and this film is no exception. DiCaprio’s portrayal of Ernest Burkhart is a departure from his usual characters, as Burkhart is a greedy and easily manipulated man. De Niro switches from his professional act to ruthless mastermind at the flip of a coin, yet both of the leading men maintain a certain amount of likeability, depending on the scene. Critics have been lauding Gladstone’s performance as Mollie, without question. As her world collapses the look of defeat on her face grows visibly for three hours until the heartbreaking conclusion. 

Perhaps the film’s biggest flaw is the sense of time passing; it doesn’t tell the audience when time passes, or how long has passed, so it can be confusing at times. 

But that hardly detracts from the overall experience. Like Oppenheimer earlier in the year, Killers of the Flower Moon tells an important story, and is perhaps even more relevant than the former. America’s history has been turbulent, but Martin Scorsese’s latest film unearths a whole new disturbing layer. It is a brutal and depressing depiction of history, but at the same time a reminder of what happens when greed consumes people. A show of those in the wrong trying to get away with murder. The one-track mind backfiring. 

It’s long, it’s violent, it’s sad, but it is immersive and expansive in scope. Pure cinema, undoubtedly entering the top echelon of films in 2023. 

Killers of the Flower Moon” will be streaming on AppleTV.

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