There are only a few ways Martin Scorsese can further prove his greatness to the world and Killers of the Flower Moon is nothing but a testament to his abilities as a filmmaker. With a 60-year-long career, Scorsese is the ultimate example of someone who creates films that not only reflect the filmmaker themselves, but the current culture of the world. Killers of the Flower Moon encapsulates what Scorcese and the rest of America have learned about the plights of the Osage Nation in the form of an entertaining and educational saga. At the center of the story is the romance between World War I veteran Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Osage Native Molly Kyle (Lily Gladstone) and the murders that followed their matrimony. The epic Western stands at three and a half hours but is sure to entertain audiences every moment it lights up the screen. Not only is it a shockingly tender portrayal of this story, but it is quite funny in the correct ways that add levity without taking away from the devastation of the crimes.
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by David Grann, KOTFM details the tragic murders of members of the Osage Nation in the early 20th century. Eric Roth, known for his work adapting books into screenplays like Forrest Gump and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, collaborated with Scorsese to adapt this story for the screen. The book and film follow what happened to the Osage Nation when they became some of the richest people in the world when they discovered oil was under their land. However, with that money came a whole new set of problems that resulted in a crime spree that would change America and its government forever.
Not a single second in Killers of the Flower Moon is a waste, however, that is not to say this film is packed with action like Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese was given the time and budget to ruminate on the story, making sure that if the film was three and a half hours long it would be a meaningful watch. What makes this such a successful retelling of a story that very much belongs to the Native Americans in Osage is the collaboration and consultation their community had on the film. There were over 50 folks of the cast and crew who were members of the Osage Nation, setting the standard for all film productions moving forward that it is mandatory to include the people of the culture being depicted in the filmmaking process.
When seeing a film by the 80-year-old auteur, the expectations for the technical aspects are nothing less than perfection, and Killers of the Flower Moon delivers. Rodrigo Prieto, the cinematographer who also filmed Barbie and The Wolf of Wall Street, captures this Western in a beautifully haunting way that creates moments and images sure to hold the audiences’ attention throughout the film. The juxtaposition between the awful killings against the thriving Osage culture on the Oklahoma plains is wonderfully shown in a way that honors the Osage people and their land without sugarcoating the crimes that transpired. As a historical retelling, the costumes and production design are impeccable due to the consultation of Osage members Addie Roanhorse and Julie O’Keefe to ensure the honesty of their cultural representation.
Now, if a film is going to be as long as Killers of the Flower Moon, it has to be more than just pretty to keep audiences still in their seats. The story is complex with themes of love, crime, abuse, and family interwoven, making this a feat only such skilled cast and crew would be able to coherently depict. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, Robert DeNiro, and Jesse Plemons there is no way that the acting could be anything less than superb. The performances are honestly marvelous. Gladstone, who plays Molly, stands out like a diamond in the rough; every time she is on screen it is impossible to look away. The Blackfeet and Nez Perce Native carry the heart and soul of the film while also capturing the pain, horror, and resilience of the Osage people through what is coined their ‘Reign of Terror’ in the early 20th century. Holding her own next to De Niro and DiCaprio on the screen, Gladstone has ensured a long career after this film.
It goes without saying that DiCaprio has given such a stunning performance unlike he has ever been seen before. This is a new type of character for the 6 time collaborator with Scorcese, where once again he doesn’t miss a beat. Ernest Burkhart requires DiCaprio to move away from the loud and rambunctious Jordan Belfort of Wolf of Wall Street, instead, the award-winning actor takes a step back and plays a shifty and rather gullible character this time around. Robert De Niro follows suit, showcasing a different side of his acting abilities as William Hale, a white billionaire who feels the need to overcompensate with the Osage Nation as he envies their wealth. Together, the familiar co-stars are the comedic backbone of the film, having a very seamless chemistry that shows their character’s fight for influence and power over one another.
All of this said, there is importance in noting that the film is still told through the perspectives of Ernest Burkhart and not by Molly Kyle. The language consultant Christopher Cote noted in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter during the film’s premiere and made some remarks that sum up the film well. In order to tell this story through the eyes of an Osage, “it would take an Osage to do that. Martin Scorsese, not being Osage, did a great job representing our people,” Cote explained. Killers of the Flower Moon is directed toward non-Osage audiences in order to educate and beg the audience to reconsider how we handle Native and Minority issues of the past, present, and future. Though the film is a retrospective, Scorsese poses a new message for this true crime film and asks the audience to think about how much longer can we, as Americans, be complacent in these acts of hate and violence. Stories as such have a right to be told, but only with dignity and respect to honor those who experienced it. Scorsese has proved once again that he is one of the greats with Killers of the Flower Moon, for it is a powerful and magnificent addition to his filmography.
Score: 4 out of 5
I do believe this is an incredibly well-made film that is important viewing for all, but I do not think this is Scorcese’s best film. The story writes itself and the auteur creates a film more tender than he has before; his care and admiration for the Osage Nation is clearly evident. Scorcese’s maturation as a filmmaker is astounding as this marks his own personal growth through this film. I went into the theater assuming this film would be violent and gory like Goodfellas, thankfully, this film is more respectful and empathetic to the community it speaks for. I cannot wait to see it again, and I am eagerly awaiting the conversations Killers of the Flower Moon will spark in audiences and future filmmakers. Despite it not being my favorite film of Scorcese’s, I know Killers of the Flower Moon will be one of the top contenders for award season and Lily Gladstone will be receiving many nominations.