By: Edu Kenedi
Edited By: Alexandra Huggins
Is it too early to call Killers of the Flower Moon a masterpiece?
Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon is a monumental film, and not just because of the three-and-a-half hour runtime. Fans have waited four years since the director’s last outing, and boy, was this worth the wait. The film features amazing performances by the three leads, stunning cinematography, and clearly shows us that, despite his age, Marty has still got it. All three of these elements are sure to be a lock for accolades come Oscar season.
Killers of the Flower Moon is an adaptation of David Grann’s homonymous book that follows the experience of the Osage people in Oklahoma during the interwar period. After oil is discovered on their land, the families of the Osage tribe became immensely rich. Their newfound wealth attracts enterprising and greedy white men looking to take advantage of the Osage whom they see as undeserving of this wealth. Early on we learn that the Osage community is falling victim to a series of murders with the rest of the film unfolding as a whodunnit as the audience tries to untangle the myriad strands of the conspiracy. Killers of the Flower Moon centres on the triangular relationship between Mollie Burkhart, her husband Ernest Burkhart and his uncle William “King” Hale, played by Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro respectively.
Killers of the Flower Moon features a slew of amazing, Oscar-worthy performances. Eschewing our expectations from the traditional leading man, Leonardo DiCaprio plays against his usual type, embodying the greedy, yet caring, and somewhat dumb Ernest Burkhart. His performance features the requisite “Leo face” and slightly over-the-top emotional breakdown of course, though he is at his best when his character struggles with his internal thoughts which are the crux of the emotional plot of the movie. Robert De Niro stars as King Hale, a white farmer whose nickname encapsulates him perfectly as he lords over the county while claiming to be a friend to the Osage Nation. His performance is a mix of kindly grandfather and cold-blooded manipulator, whose eyes never quite seem to smile, creating a nefarious sense of unease whenever he is on-screen. While both of these actors deserve credit, neither one of them holds a candle to Lily Gladstone’s Mollie Burkhart. Gladstone, a lesser known actor, blows both former Oscar-winners off the screen in a performance which ranges from quiet, reserved, and powerful to vulnerable, grieving, and enfeebled. In contrast to DiCaprio, whose Ernest never seems to stop speaking, Gladstone’s Mollie seems to act without words, letting her expressions and eyes convey the depth of her character in every scene. This tour de force of a performance is sure to net Gladstone an Academy Award nomination. The three main performances are accompanied by a murderer’s row of character actors including Jesse Plemmons, Brendan Frasier, Wally Welch, and Louis Cancelmi.
Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who has worked on Socrsese’s last three films, captures stunning vistas of rural Oklahoma in an elegant way, allowing the rolling hills and lush fields to speak for themselves. This natural beauty is broken up by filthy oil derricks and juxtaposed against a dirty and violent town. Beyond the breathtaking panoramas, Prieto and his engineers created a new lens that allowed him to capture the beautiful vistas of Osage County in 1920s style. The ‘20s vibes are also evoked by the choice to intersperse the film with black-and-white photos of the Osage actors in period-accurate attire, which are indistinguishable from actual historical images of the Osage nation. The combination of period-esque cinematography, great costumes, and striking stills immerse the audience in the world of the film and will likely give Prieto the chance to add a fourth Academy Award to his collection.
Martin Scorsese’s direction not only highlights some of his hallmarks from earlier films, but also shows a different, more subdued tone which has become characteristic of his later films. Of course, there is shocking and extremely disturbing violence as expected from a Scorsese film. But instead of glamorising the murders with the flair of his earlier works, he chooses to portray the violence against the Osage nation clinically and even intimately. On top of this, Scorsese chooses to focus on an intimate and muted tone, allowing, for example, DiCaprio and Gladstone to sit in total silence and listen to the rain. The attention to detail and stylistic flair in every single scene will probably net Scorsese another Oscar nomination for best director.
While some may criticise the overly long runtime, the whole film is indicative of a director who takes his audience seriously, providing a well-needed alternative to contemporary superhero franchises. There is little hand holding and no exposition dumps to move the story along. Instead Scorsese reveals little hints bit-by-bit and allows the audience to unravel the mystery around the murders in real time. That being said, the film is long and requires real stamina, both when it comes to following the mystery and keeping track of all the different characters.
Do not let the long runtime dissuade you from watching this in the cinema. The engaging plot, immersive world, and stunning performances draw you in and make you forget the length of the film. Even as the film languishes in quiet scenes, it is never boring, and Scorsese’s final twist is sure to keep you talking about it once it finishes. Individually, the cinematography, acting, or direction would make Killers of the Flower Moon a must-see movie. Together, they make it a masterpiece.