Home Reviews Review: ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone Lead Scorsese's Masterful...

Review: ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’

Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone Lead Scorsese's Masterful Crime Epic That Echoes The Violent Birth Of America

Culture stands at the heart of Martin Scorsese’s sweeping, devastating crime epic Killers of the Flower moon. The loss one of one’s noble culture, and the terrible confirmation of another’s.  The film, an adaptation of David Grann’s novel that brought this horrible period of the 1920s to light, begins with a council of Osage tribal leaders, meeting to discuss the loss of their culture after a forced move from Missouri to Oklahoma. The Osage believed they were chosen by a higher spirit, and this title became truer than ever when the Osage discovered oil on the supposedly barren land. They became, per capita, the richest people in the world, going to college, wearing fancy clothes, and being served by white people.

And it was this mixing with white society that began to doom the Osage. More white people moved in, they began marrying into the Osage and diluting their mighty warrior bloodline. But worse than that, the white men came with an agenda to separate the Osage from their wealth. It begins with forcing the ingigenous people to have handlers, always whites, to manage their finances. Greed, and taking that which is not theirs to have, is the unfortunate culture that the white man has brought to Fairfax, Oklahoma. In another tribal council meeting, a leader exclaims that if they could see the enemy, they would fight them like warriors.  But these white men move in the shadows.

Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth have done their due dilligence to make this fundamentally a story about the Osage. Sure, the biggest stars are white men, Leonardo DiCaprio’s “handsome devil” Ernest Burkhart, and Robert De Niro’s seemingly magnanimous philanthropist William Hale, Ernest’s uncle. The heart and soul of the story are the Osage, in particular Mollie Burkhart, played in the latest dynamic performance of the year by Lily Gladstone.

The Osage have been dying in unexplained ways. Some are murdered, others of are labeled depressed and accused of committing suicide. Still others by disease. In the case of Mollie, whose family is one of the wealthiest, she has been afflicted with diabetes, a “white man’s disease” that kills most by the age of 50. In one scene, she’s warned by a doctor that she’ll die young if she doesn’t stop eating like a white. But this apparent frailty also makes Mollie desirable. See, if she dies, then her oil rights transfer to another, and an opportunistic spouse…well…

There’s something else going on, too. The Osage, rich though they might be, can’t do anything about a system that’s fundamentally set up against them. Murder after murder and yet the police do nothing about it. The white men who work for the Osage walk around like they own the place; there’s racism everywhere, and when the Osage act out, usually in a drunken response, they pay the price and nobody else. Oklahoma begins to feel like an especially oil-rich prison.

It’s the perfect atmosphere for these crimes to be committed, and Scorsese, who knows a thing or two about criminal networks, establishes a different kind of mob movie with Killers of the Flower Moon. Unlike Grann’s novel which obscures the complicity of folks such as Ernest and Hale, Scorsese’s film is a lot more obvious. Hale entrusts the dopey but likable Ernest to use his charms to win over Mollie. She’s suspicious, and she even admits he’s a devil after her money, and yet she marries him anyway. What’s fascinating is watching as Mollie and Ernest do this toxic tango, where she knows what he’s up to and he plays at the caring, nurturing husband. Do they really, truly love one another? The duplicitous dance that DiCaprio and Gladstone weave is some of the best acting you’ll see in any movie all year. Truly incredible work between the two of them, because it’s never 100% clear where Ernest and Mollie are coming from. All we know is that Mollie’s friends and family keep dying, Hale and Ernest keep making more money, and nobody seems to be doing anything about it.

I don’t want to skip past Gladstone too easily here. The third of a truly breakout year that includes performances in Fancy Dance and The Unknown Country, Gladstone’s Mollie is at times a pillar of strength, a concerned spouse, a devoted sister, and the center of a paranoid conspiracy. We see Mollie as she looks at the man she loves and is forced to wonder if the insulin he gives her is meant to kill her, or if he’s truly looking out for her as she hopes. Scorsese taken on a few muses over his career, and thsi first time with Gladstone has me hoping she is the next one.

Speaking of muses, we finally get to see De Niro and DiCaprio together in a Scorsese joint. The results are predictably out of this world, with the fatherly De Niro’s Hale looking down at DiCaprio’s Ernest like a school kid at detention. De Niro has always had this unique ability to be, at the same time, an intimidating and caring father figure, both of which he employs judiciously here. And it’s just a blast to see the high-wire act DiCaprio pulls off, equal parts slimy and charming as Ernest. He’s played secretive characters before but never one with such high emotional stakes as this, nor one who falls victim to a hilariously corporal punishment at the old man’s hands. Watch as the movie goes along just how haggard and pathetic Ernest becomes while in Hale’s presence.

Like the novel, Killers of the Flower Moon becomes something altogether different with the introduction of federal lawman Tom White (Jesse Plemons), a former Texas Ranger sent by Hoover (Yes, the same J. Edgar once played by DiCaprio) to investigate the murder. Whereas the book became more of a procedural, the film begins to distance itself from the emotional core of Mollie and Ernest. We follow the beats of the investigation, which proves rather Scorsese-esque with so many dim-witted criminals running around trying to save themselves, but we lose track of Mollie as she wastes away in her bedroom. It’s still quite an entertaining film at this point, and often quite funny, but in a lesser way as before. The Osage as a whole see their role diminished in the latter stretch.

Still, it’s good that Scorsese doesn’t focus on the murders so much. Violence is kept to minimum, but it’s quick and shocking when it does occur, achieving maximum impact. Robbie Robertson’s string and drum-heavy score carries us through this remarkable true-crime epic that rumbles us through the hills and mountains of Oklahoma where the moonshiners lurk.  The steady corruption, the rot in the gut of this cherished land is captured in stunning natural colors by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto.

Killers of the Flower Moon is a complete, utterly masterful film that echoes the very birth of America. And it comes not without its share of potential drawbacks by having a White filmmaker tell this uniquely Native American story. But Scorsese is clever indeed, framing the film around a fictional true crime radio serial, with white actors humiliatingly acting out the tribal roles while voices we know and respect pay final homage to the Osage who stood like warriors against the tide of violence and corruption that would infect this country. I’ve been down on Scorsese of late; the combined 200+ dull hours of Silence and The Irishman will do that, but Killers of the Flower Moon shows that he is still a filmmaker in full control and at the top of his game on every level.

Apple releases Killers of the Flower Moon into theaters on October 20th.

Killers of the Flower Moon
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-killers-of-the-flower-moonCulture stands at the heart of Martin Scorsese's sweeping, devastating crime epic Killers of the Flower moon. The loss one of one's noble culture, and the terrible confirmation of another's.  The film, an adaptation of David Grann's novel that brought this horrible period of the...

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