I was rather shocked to learn that 80 year old director Martin Scorsese had another movie set to release so soon after 2020’s “The Irishman.” “Irishman” was a movie filled with themes of what it’s like to see the world change around you as you grow old. Seemingly the perfect film for a director with such a long and esteemed career to end on. However Killers of the Flower Moon threw a wrench in this thematically fitting end to Scorsese’s career, and proves that 56 years after the release of his first feature film, the director is as creative as ever.
Killers of the Flower Moon is an adaptation of a nonfiction book written by David Grann of the same name. Both follow the Native American Osage tribe, a group that upon being removed from their home land, discover oil on the new land they’ve settled on in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. This makes the Osage tribe incredibly wealthy, and in the 1920’s they became the wealthiest people per capita on the planet. This made them a target for the rest of America, and as a result, white men began to move to the Osage Nation’s home in Pawhuska, attempting to marry the wealthy Osage women and then murder them for their inheritance.
One such man was Ernest Burkhart, the film’s protagonist played by Leonardo Dicaprio. After coming to Pawhuska to work for his uncle, he decides to join the heinous mass murder after marrying an Osage woman by the name of Mollie Burkhart, played by Lily Gladstone. As Ernest has already gotten too far deep into his assistance of genocide, The FBI comes to Pawhuska to investigate the murders. From there, a cat and mouse game ensues as Ernest fights to succeed in his evil manipulation while the massacre is slowly unraveled by law enforcement. Killers is a difficult movie to talk about, for starters, the movie is nearly 4 hours long. It is chock-full of characters with unique ambitions and many overlapping arcs. Furthermore the tragedy inflicted on the Osage people is deeply disturbing to witness, as the film never holds back on displaying the brutality and horror the tribe had to face.
While the film is very long, it’s never boring. It was the longest film I had ever seen in theatres and yet when the credits rolled I was confused as to how it felt like the runtime flew by.The performances in this film are nothing short of remarkable. Robert De Niro plays Ernest’s uncle, an old man who has been participating in the murdering of the Osage long before Ernest arrived. De Niro expertly displays the long rooted evil built up in a man who has been overseeing such carnage for so long. Leonardo Dicaprio plays Ernest Burkhart so well, masterfully displaying how far greed can make one go. Ernest Burkhart was a deplorable man who participated in genocide in order to make money, and Dicaprio’s performance expertly shows us how pathetically his ego shatters when he is close to getting caught.
However, the highlight of the film for me was Lily Gladstone’s phenomenal portrayal of Mollie Burkhart. Lily gives a heartbreaking performance, as we see her manipulated over and over again by a man she truly loves, whom she believes loves her too. She brings nearly every emotion into the role 100% convincingly. If you are someone who likes to predict who will win what during awards season as a game with others (as my family does), I would go all in on Lily Gladstone winning Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. The film is masterfully made, although I would expect no less from Martin Scorsese. Nearly every shot (especially the first and last) are absolutely stunning. The cinematography as a whole was always captivating. This was also probably Scorsese’s best-edited film to date. So many times in the film symbolic choices in the editing elevate the story to such great heights.
The script is razor sharp, as nearly every line of dialog holds its essential importance. If you have a keen eye for symbolism, this film has some remarkable uses of it (pay attention to when and where you see flies in the movie). Overall nearly every aspect of the production is well made. Killers of The Flower Moon is an advanced movie. It’s full of extremely complex characters with even more complex motivations. There is so much to digest, so much that I know very well I missed. That is what makes it so unique, I think that everyone will walk away from this movie taking something a little different out of it. It has an ending that I can admit may not be for everyone. It may leave people scratching their heads, as it is incredibly simple compared to the rest of the film. However, I thought it was an extremely fitting ending not only to the film, but also possibly to Martin Scorsese’s career as a whole. While this may not be his final film, it would be an incredible way to end off one of the greatest filmographies of all time.