Martin Scorsese is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most important living filmmakers. Finally uniting his long-time acting collaborators Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese only further cements this status with Killers of the Flower Moon.
The three-and-a-half-hour epic about a series of murders of the Osage people during the 1920s and beyond centres around the couple Ernest (DiCaprio) and Molly (Lily Gladstone). Spanning topics of wealth, race and urbanisation, much of the first part of the film deals with powerful dialogue as the insidious murder plot develops in the background. Throughout there is commentary on how the media interacts with such issues: we are shown newsreels, early film clips and dramatisations of the murders themselves. These scenes are shocking but are never depicted to sensationalise moments of violence.
Caught under the influence of his uncle and powerful businessman/ politician Bill ‘King’ Hale (De Niro), Ernest becomes embroiled in the plot whilst the community around his growing family begins to splinter. Expertly played by DiCaprio, Ernest has a quiet innocence to him despite having a clear malicious side.
During a screen talk at the BFI as part of LFF, Scorsese says he was interested in seeing how small moments of prejudice can build and become a genocide. This sense of slow transformation and rising hatred is felt throughout the film as the tension within the community rises between the indigenous people and the white settlers.
During the same conversation, Scorsese states how he was uninterested in simply creating a revisionist western where Wyatt Earp is now the ‘bad guy’. This approach is evident as the film continues to find novel and modern ways to tell its story, deeply considering the indigenous perspective and avoiding the harmful stereotypes that can often plague the genre. Killers of the Flower Moon digs into the dirt and muddies its morality as it paints a rich picture of wealth, power and betrayal.
Although the lengthy runtime may put some people off, the quiet, slower pace that this allows is what makes the drama so potent and powerful. It is pure cinema that allows you to breathe in its murky atmosphere and demands your attention in its sobering telling of an important yet forgotten chapter of history.
Just when the film appears to be losing steam, something novel or striking always seems to come around. This is particularly true in the arrival of Jesse Plemons as Tom White, a federal investigator into the murders, which carries the film through into a riveting final act. Similarly, the use of Robbie Robertson’s sparse yet crucial score provides the film with an emotional weight whilst also further subtly reinventing the film’s place within the Western genre.
Inventive imagery is scattered throughout the film as Scorsese works with images of shadows and silhouettes to great effect. Topping this off, the film results in a final trick that only someone as bold and experienced as Scorsese could pull off. It is a monumental achievement that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Killers of the Flower Moon will be released in cinemas on October 20 2023.