"Killers of the Flower Moon" stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow, and Brendan Fraser. Released on October 20, 2023, the film follows the investigation involving the murders of the Osage tribe members.
The film was directed by Martin Scorsese, who also directed films such as "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", "Goodfellas", "The Wolf of Wall Street", and "The Irishman". It is based on the 2017 non-fiction book of the same name by David Grann. October usually offers plenty of spooky movies involving many fictional creatures and demons terrorizing unsuspecting victims. However, it can also provide films involving the one thing that's more unsettling than a typical monster in your closet: American history. Plenty of events in world history we read reflect the country's darkness and disturbing nature in years past, especially when it involves discrimination against other cultures and the dangers of greed. The one involving the Osage tribe in Oklahoma is no different, as the discovery of oil resulted in unexplained murders of the Osage members in the 1920s. This historical event serves as the concept of the latest epic crime drama from award-winning director Martin Scorsese. After making a splash at the 92nd Academy Awards with his gangster classic, "The Irishman", Scorsese hopes to return to the Oscar race with another three-hour-plus cinematic trek through history packed with massive star power. Based on the solid word of mouth it's been receiving since its premiere at Cannes, it appears that the filmmaker has another masterpiece on his hands. Now that it's been finally released to the public, does this unsettling piece of American history live up to its high expectations? Let's find out.
The story occurs in the Native American Osage Nation, Oklahoma in the late 1920s, where the Osage tribe became wealthy after discovering oil on their lands. However, the state's law requires the tribe to have its "guardians" manage their wealth. Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) has returned from World War I to reside in Oklahoma with his uncle William King Hale (De Niro), a businessman and reserve deputy sheriff. While working as a cab driver, Ernest meets Mollie (Gladstone), an Osage woman from a wealthy family, and they eventually marry. However, their relationship is tested when the Osage country members are killed off individually, leading to an investigation led by BOI agent Tom White (Plemons). The situation worsens when the country's white "guardians" seek to exploit the Osages' wealth and are involved with the murders, including Ernest. The greed and corruption overpowering the state spell the downfall of America's relationship with the Indigenous tribe.
I hadn't been following Martin Scorsese's work as a director until I was old enough to drink. Considering how many great adult-rated movies he's made throughout the past few decades, it's hard to imagine how long it took me to reach that specific age. It wasn't until his family-friendly outing, "Hugo", in 2011 that I realized how professional he is as a screenwriter and filmmaker. Despite his obsession with epic runtimes, it's easy to see why Scorsese remains his status as one of the greats in filmmaking. Based on my experience with his last few films, it's unsurprising that I was looking forward to "Flower Moon", especially since it has a promising cast, including a few who previously collaborated with Scorsese.
But, of course, it doesn't hurt for me to be a little bit cautious with my expectations for "Flower Moon" due to one reason: its length. Similar to some of his previous movies, such as "The Irishman", Scorsese uses the beefy runtime to fully explore the character-driven aspects of its themes and historical elements. In the case of "Flower Moon", the movie is an epic yet tragic and provocative depiction of how greed, selfishness, white supremacy, and discrimination destroy a cultural relationship due to the discovery of oil. I would even say it's another historical movie that paints a saddening reflection of today's culture because of people's lack of common sense. However, like my experiences with the other three-hour-plus films, such as "Oppenheimer", it's not the runtime that I'm concerned about. It's whether or not the story deserves to be told at that length.
"Flower Moon" is very dialogue-driven and subtle, with some small depictions of violence that's brutal to watch and gruesome for the corpses. So, it doesn't surprise me that its 206-minute runtime will test people's patience. As usual, I don't mind its runtime as long as it doesn't feel like I was watching paint dry regarding its pacing and presentation. The first two acts of "Flower Moon" didn't seem to have too much trouble with how it paces along like a trotting horse at a ranch. Unfortunately, by the time it gets close to the third act, I immediately feel its length due to its uneven pacing. "Flower Moon" is another situation where the narrative can make a difference in the pacing and runtime. It certainly has a great story, but it also has a few sequences where the film took a while to get itself going again. Thankfully, I was offered two things that kept me from dozing off completely: the movie's well-crafted cinematic quality and a large cup of Mountain Dew.
So, in a way, my experience with "Flower Moon" is almost like my experience with Scorsese's previous film, "The Irishman". They both struggle to maintain my full attention with their pacing, but they quickly compensate with the filmmaker's passion and talent in their presentations. The only difference between the two is that "Flower Moon" is a theatrical type of film. Despite my flawed attention span toward its massive length, "Flower Moon" is another strong showcase of Scorsese's filmmaking skills, as he brings his cinematic flair to the tragedy and somberness of America's obsession with wealth. This is mainly due to his direction, which has him taking command of every framework from cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and turning them into alluring yet unsettling works of art.
His screenplay, which he co-wrote with Eric Roth, also deserves plenty of credit. It's not just because of how well-written it is for its flawed and despised characters and narrative. It's also because of the respectable representation of the Indigenous people. Despite the Indigenous people not being the center of attention, it did wonders in displaying the humanity and soul of the Osage country and its traditions, along with the self-indulgence of its white "guardians". Some of its moments may not hit me emotionally, but they showcase Scorsese's desire to portray the film's diversity without relying heavily on Hollywood tropes.
Another element that elevates the Western crime drama is its superb cast. Part of Martin Scorsese's success comes from his healthy collaborations with his fellow actors, including DiCaprio and Di Niro, showcasing that relationships in the movie world can impact their projects in a good or bad way. In Scorsese's case, it's the former. "Flower Moon" is no exception, as it reunites the director with DiCaprio and Di Niro for the umpteenth time to deliver another incredible display of talent and compassion through their performances. Leonardo DiCaprio gave another fantastic performance that'll likely get him another Oscar nomination. His portrayal of the greedy and cunning Ernest is another example of him portraying unlikable characters as effectively as the likable ones. Robert Di Niro was also great as William King Hale, especially with how he nails the character's accent. It's enough for me to forgive him for starring in the underwhelming "About My Father" a few months ago.
The rest of the cast starring alongside DiCaprio and Di Niro were also stellar in sharing the spotlight with the main leads. However, if I were to pick one that stood out the most, I'd go with Lily Gladstone as Mollie. Gladstone has starred in several movies before "Flower Moon", like "Certain Women" and "First Cow", but only in supporting roles, so this marks the true test of whether her presence is good enough to garner "main lead" status. Based on her performance in "Flower Moon", I can easily bet that this film will become the greatest achievement in her career. Gladstone perfectly displayed Mollie's subtle, sincere, and quietly emotional personality that's deeply riveting and profound, further proving that some of the best performances can come from the subtly tragic ones. Jesse Plemons and Tantoo Cardinal were also great as Tom White and Lizzie Q (Mollie's mother), respectively, despite the former appearing near the end of the second act.
If the cast isn't enough to give "Flower Moon" some recognition, then it should be noticed for its production design. The movie was shot in Oklahoma with a jaw-dropping $200 million budget, possibly the largest amount spent for that location. Fortunately, it was money well spent, as the film displayed the practical and expansive essence of 1920s Oklahoma, especially the Osage Nation. I also want to take notice of Robbie Robertson's well-balanced score regarding its beautifully authentic music and soundtrack. It was Robertson's last film he worked on with Scorsese before he sadly passed away in August from prostate cancer. From my experience, it's genuinely a swan song to remember, and he will definitely be missed.
Overall, "Killers of the Flower Moon" blossoms with its cinematic quality and onscreen talent, resulting in a bloated yet sublimely tragic tale of greed and violence. I wish I could love this movie as much as others, but the three-hour-plus runtime is as gut-wrenching as seeing innocent people die because of others' selfish desires. The best compliment I can give this film is that Martin Scorsese continues to be a great filmmaker regarding his direction and storytelling for the relationship between America and the Indigenous people. Along with its fantastic cast, production design, and superb score, "Flower Moon" is another well-crafted piece of cinema that only Scorsese knows how to make, even if it doesn't win everybody over. If you're a fan of the filmmaker's previous works, this movie's worth checking out. Also, make sure you use the restroom before watching it because, again, its runtime is a doozy.