Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon": A Haunting Glimpse into History"
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By: Liam Murphy, Contributor
Martin Scorsese is without a doubt one of the most iconic and critically acclaimed directors of all time. Scorsese has been directing films since the late 19603, and now, at eighty years old, it is incredibly impressive that he's still producing movies at all, let alone that his most recent work is one of his best.
His new movie, "Killers of the Flower Moon," which was released on October 20th, stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, and Robert De Niro. Scorsese not only reaches the level of quality established by his previous works, but, in many ways, exceeds it. The movie adapts the book of the same title, which follows FBI agent Tom White as he seeks to uncover the conspiracy behind a vast string of murders happening in the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. In the late nineteenth century, oil was discovered on the Osage reservation, making them the wealthiest people per capita in the whole United States.
Instead of focusing on Tom White and making the story a crime procedural, screenwriters Scorsese and Roth pivot the focus onto the perpetrators of the crimes, as well as Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman who married one of the conspirators. This narrative shift proves to be a fantastic choice, as it dispels the idea that White came in as a literal "white savior" figure and cleaned up the town. Instead, the movie chooses to immerse the audience in the Osage tribe, with a significant amount of screen time dedicated to their culture and the systemic injustices they faced. Scorsese’s approach never feels tasteless or disrespectful as he reportedly consulted with the Osage Nation frequently while making this film.
Since oil was discovered on Osage land, hundreds of murders have occurred in an attempt to steal their oil money. The movie delves deep into the entire conspiracy, which involves bankers, doctors, reporters, and law enforcement willing to turn a blind eye due to their racist envy of Natives owning their own wealth and land. While focusing on both the main perpetrators and the victims makes the mystery less compelling, it successfully shifts the focus of the story to revolve around a poisoned, tragic romance centered on DiCaprio's character, Earnest, who conspires to kill his Native wife Molly, played by Gladstone, as well as her entire family.
Earnest isn't written or portrayed as a one-dimensional bad guy solely motivated by white greed. Instead, he is depicted as a nuanced character who is led astray by his much more immoral, capitalist uncle, William Hale, played by DeNiro. One particularly striking sequence shows this by Earnest’s drinking of the poison he's been giving his wife to commiserate in her misery, trying to feel the pain he is inflicting on her.
The relationship between Earnest and Molly serves as a microcosm of the historical context of Native Americans and White Settlers. Their romance is bold and harrowing, ultimately culminating in a brilliant and tragic ending, which also provides Scorsese to reflect on his own role in adapting this work . The systematic and legalized racism and the absence of investigation also serve as a criticism of the ambivalence of the U.S. government. As the horrible events unfold, you feel glued to the screen, horrified and helpless as you watch all the sheer scale of the conspiracy unravel.
The filmmaking on display reiterates the themes of hopelessness and despair. All the violence shown on screen is shot with wide angles and no music, only natural sound, to emphasize the brutality and malevolence of these murders. The movie itself is quiet and meditative, with many sections solely dedicated to the vast Oklahoma landscape and a looming sense of dread and horror. Scorsese’s long time editor, Thelma Schoonmmaker, is known for her use of energetic quick cutting and use of montages and music. Here she opts to tone her style down with the frequent use of long, static shots that makes the film feel more contemplative as the frame will, quite literally, sit with you for a while.
DiCaprio and DeNiro both deliver fantastic performances, giving some of their best work to date. DiCaprio, especially, plays Earnest with such self-doubt and pain that you can't help but sympathize with him despite his abhorrent deeds. It is however Lily Gladstone's performance as Molly that is the showstopper. She steals every scene she is in creating a truly devastating character. Watching all the tragedy that befalls Molly is genuinely heartbreaking, and Gladstone's grueling physical deterioration throughout the movie is plain hard to watch.
At a lengthy 206-minute runtime, "Killers of the Flower Moon" is very long, but you'll only feel it physically because it is expertly paced and constantly engaging. Despite the lack of mystery, Scorsese smartly withholds certain bits of information leading to an excellent set of payoffs and reveals in the final act. The runtime will deter some people, but if you can tolerate the length and the dark subject matter, you will be treated to one of the best movies of the year. "Killers of the Flower Moon" is one of Scorsese's best and is a truly special and haunting film that won't I forget for a while. It's a thought-provoking exploration of the systemic injustices facing indigenous Americans, and a fine crime thriller as well.
The iconic filmmaker once again proves his talent with his latest picture. Scorsese not only adapts a riveting true story but also reframes the narrative to serve as a thought-provoking exploration of the systemic injustices facing indigenous Americans.