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Review: Killers Of The Flower Moon
The Latest From Martin Scorsese
This is a quick review of the newly released film Killers Of The Flower Moon. Keep in mind this is but one of the many movies I watch every year, and that whatever initial grade I come up for this film could change for better or worse with time. To better keep up to date with both my thoughts on other movies and if my feelings on this film changed, follow me on Letterboxd.
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Via Letterboxd: When oil is discovered in 1920s Oklahoma under Osage Nation land, the Osage people are murdered one by one - until the FBI steps in to unravel the mystery.
While I wouldn’t call myself a hardcore Martin Scorsese stan, I do consider him one of the all-time great directors and even his lower tier movies are at the very least good in my book. Granted I still have some blind spots to take care of in his filmography, but the man has yet to give us a movie I’d give lower than a B- to - something I couldn’t even say about my personal choice for GOAT in Akira Kurosawa. And undoubtedly he has given us some iconic greats including Goodfellas which might be my personal pick even over Little Caesar, The Godfather, or Pulp Fiction for best gangster film.
But of late Scorsese’s passionate defense of what he considers “cinema” versus “content” has created many a clickbait headline and social media arguments between content creators and hardcore cinephiles or fellow film critics. Hiding beneath all this Martin Scorsese versus franchise filmmaking content (In which I take the controversial nuanced view that I both agree and disagree with “Marty” on his takes on the subject), is the fact he is arguably on his strongest streak of films in perhaps his entire career.
He had a Best Picture winner in The Departed; he got into the Picture race with great A-tier films like Hugo, The Wolf Of Wall Street, and The Irishman; and delivered an incredibly well respected film that could one day be a consistent Sight & Sound poll placer in Silence. Now we can add Killers Of The Flower Moon to that list of recent greats. In fact I’ll just go ahead and tell you right now this is another A-tier film from him in my opinion.
The marketing to this film would make you think this is a crime caper. Perhaps some of the ads might even lead you to believe this is a Goodfellas, Casino, or The Irishman style historical gangster epic. But this to me is Scorsese’s historical western epic with human drama, true crime, and even a tragic romance all key parts to the makeup of the story. This is his own darker, more cynical, less “white savior”-ish, sort of take of Dances With Wolves (Ironically the movie that bested Goodfellas at the Oscars that year).
This is a dramatic, slow burn that focuses on the human cost of greed, racism, bigotry, and a people who are seen lesser than by its oppressors. If you’re expecting a fast-paced constantly moving story like The Irishman you’ll be disappointed. This is a three and a half hour film that takes its time using up all that runtime and doesn’t apologize for it.
My pros for the film are anchored by the great performances from its ensemble with of course Leonardo DiCaprio delivering another Oscar nomination worthy performance as Ernest Burkhart, Lilly Gladstone’s Molly Burkhart being the heart of the film as the main perspective of the Osage who are targeted (Though I have to admit I think this is much more of a supporting performance than a leading one), and Jesse Plemons does a lot with his few scenes as Tom White who is one of the very few white characters on here with more redeeming qualities than not. But Robert De Niro shines as the film’s main antagonist William “King” Hale, playing a bit out of type as a smooth talking southern son of a b*tch with evil intentions and complete apathy for those harmed in his quest for money and power.
No shock will come to you to learn this is one of the better directed films of the year. There’s stylistic choices made here by Scorsese that I really enjoyed. Mainly the reveal of the FBI agents when they come together to share notes on their findings, how he presents the facts on the aftermath of the case towards the end, or the way the Osage’s beliefs in their afterlife or their language were presented.
But that said as much as I enjoyed this, it does have some slight flaws that have been bothering me since credits rolled. As I already mentioned, the film’s length is felt thanks to its slow burn pacing; and where as it wasn’t until three hours into The Irishman that I started being ready for that film to end, I felt that way with this one much earlier before that. There’s also the fact that the decision to mainly see this through the perspective of the murderous white men instead of the Osage people has me wondering what the alternative option would have looked like.
There were times where I also found myself wondering if this had chosen a different tone if the movie would feel much more engaging than it did versus say Oppenheimer which is much more of a momentum builder with its three hours. And yet there were times where the tones seemed to clash when there were sudden moments of levity that made me chuckle but also made me wonder if I should be given the nature of the content and how it was being presented.
Killers Of The Flower Moon is going to at least be in my Top 15 if not Top 10 come the end of the year. Like I said, its yet another A-tier “Marty” picture. But we’ve gotten better from the iconic Director. Maybe on re-watch I’ll feel stronger about the film, but my initial impression is this an A- great film, not an A+ “masterpiece”.