We all know Martin Scorsese for his legendary filmography and talent for storytelling with titles like Taxi Driver, Gangs of New York, and Shutter Island. His latest film, Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t to be missed, particularly for its leading and supporting cast as well as the heavy and hard- hitting subject matter. The film depicts the real life murders and exploitation of several members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma during the 1920’s with Ernest and Mollie Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone) at the forefront of the story. This story of greed over oil and money was one of the most highly anticipated autumn releases of the year, so it’s time to finally dive in and review it.
It goes without saying that the nature of what happened to the Osage Nation is not something to be taken lightly, and to adapt these real events into a film must be done with care. Martin Scorsese takes his time to build the world that the audience can expect to be in for three and a half hours, showing the contrast between the world of white and powerful men, and the world of the Osage Nation. It’s clear that Scorsese went to great lengths to research the culture and traditions of the Osage Nation, especially as the film presents their practices and beliefs throughout individual people’s lives from birth to death.
Despite the long runtime, the film’s plot is straightforward and doesn’t feel as if it is as long as it actually is. We’re immediately introduced to a vast array of characters across the film, pushing the story forward with stalling in one place for too long. It becomes painfully obvious who we need to be entirely suspicious and distrusting toward, and Scorsese does not gloss over or hide the disturbing realities of what feels like a true murder mystery. Except this time, it is through the perspective of the perpetrators, specifically Ernest Burkhart. The motive and goal were clear, and the end result is just beyond heartbreaking, but it is the way the film unfolds these events is what is meant to trigger rage within the audience.
It’s incredibly important to also note that this is not a movie about love between a man and his wife. This is a movie about a man who was willingly trapped by greed, and conspired to exploit his wife in the name of a fake display of love. The performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone prove to be astounding and convincing, particularly in the way that their chemistry attempts to fool the audience into thinking everything is fine, masking intent with sincere concern and care. It’s as if DiCaprio pulled in all the energy of his previous roles as a distraught or troubled husband, and channeled it into Ernest Burkhart until the very end, exposing himself for he truly is. Performances from Robert De Niro as well as the vast supporting cast all play perfectly into intertwining stories that lead up to the film’s finale. Everyone has a story, and not one person felt out of place, and for a film this intricate, that is a feat on its own.
With that said, the film does severely underuse Lily Gladstone’s talent as Mollie Burkhart, despite how phenomenal her performance is all throughout. It’s frustrating to see our lead actress go from having a prominent role that reels the audience in as we desire to understand her more, only to be suddenly sidelined in the second half of the film. Considering this is a story of both Mollie and Ernest Burkhart, it is questionable to only follow the perspective of one side, as it does zero justice to Mollie’s story.
There is also the severe underutilization of the Osage perspective which feels as if it was sacrificed in the hopes of trying to build a conscience for a man who had no real compassion for his wife and had every intent of sticking to his plan to eliminate the Osage community. There were several characters introduced that had far more compelling backstories and it’s an absolute shame that the film doesn’t dive into them and allow us to get to know these men and women. A film like Killers of the Flower Moon requires more than just showing off a community’s culture. It also requires the unfiltered perspective of those who were impacted, exposing uglier truths of the tragedy and horror of what occurred. But unfortunately, it remains surface level without that perspective, which begs the question: Who is this film for, exactly?
At the same time, one can’t help but admire Scorsese’s tactical direction of the film which forces the audience to come to terms with who the “wolves” are. In other words, it’s asking the audience if we know who the bad people are. Scorsese can only go so far with a story about a group of people he is not a part of, which can be limiting on one hand but also forces him to take the responsibility of shedding a light on who the true monsters are. Killers of the Flower Moon is a film that needs to be taken in slowly as it showcases a brutal part of history. It is violent but also delicate, and above all, it sits the audience down and forces us to come to terms with the reality of what we just witnessed, and to hopefully learn from the past.
Killers of the Flower Moon receives 4 out of 5 Samosas.
Killers of the Flower Moon is currently playing in theaters, and is coming soon to Apple TV+.
Runtime: 3hr 26m
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