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Killers of the Flower Moon ★★★★★



Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons

Released: 20th October 2023

During his recently highly anticipated screen talk at the London Film Festival, Martin Scorsese admitted he has no idea where cinema is going or what the future holds for filmmaking. “Why does it have to be the same?” he questioned whilst discussing with moderator and fellow film director Edgar Wright. He’s correct; films are forever evolving, both positively and negatively. Thankfully, this has not affected the cinema icon’s work as he debuts his immensely brilliant Western true-crime picture, Killers of the Flower Moon.

Marking his 27th film, Scorsese is not showing any signs of slowing down. Killers of the Flower Moon made its first impressions during its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the director’s first film premiering at the international festival since 1985’s After Hours. The film had already generated an uproar at its premiere night, a sea full of applause, and it did the same unsurprisingly in London.

Adapted from David Gann’s 2017 non-fiction best-seller of the same name, the film follows the US’s Osage murders dating back to the early 1920s. Honest brutality is at its core, protecting those whose history this film directly affects. The fate of the Osage Indian nation drastically changed when land-bred black gold cemented their status as oil multimillionaires. Their new wealth meant lifestyles altered: sophisticated clothing galore, expensive motor cars and the luxury of being escorted home. Despite appearances, their new wealth came as a cost of justification, with every purchase monitored. The history of the West is complicated and known throughout as one of pure danger. Death came with its horror and exploitation.

Post-war, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo Dicaprio) wants to spend the rest of his days full of wealth and thus is spoon-fed to him by his cattle baron Uncle William Hale (Robert De Niro). Money can fade as quickly as one’s life can. Hale sees Ernest as an opportunity to use his eligible bachelor status to charm Mollie (Lily Gladstone), whose family holds the ‘headrights’ to oil deposits of their land. If Ernest were to marry Mollie, then he and Hale would receive rights to control the estate. Mollie is as smart as they come – quick-witted, emotionally and spiritually connected to her community, and loving. Yet, instantly, she knew the game that was being played. “Coyote wants money,” smirks Mollie. Both parties acknowledge what appears to be an inside joke, taken from his flirtation and assessed through her dry humour. Ernest and Mollie’s relationship becomes Killer’s beating yet aching heart. Regardless of their racial and socioeconomic divides, their marriage would be one of the greatest to have endured such challenges.

Taking on any factual film is a challenge mainly as the biggest acceptance isn’t convincing the audience of its honesty but those directly related to the heart of the story – the families and the Osage community. Killers is a genuine, heartfelt take on Gann’s novel, perhaps even more carefully constructed. The Osage Nation has obvious reasons for its distrust of outsiders, as victims of one of the worst American crimes in the 20th Century due to money-grabbing white people. Scorsese began his first attempt at gaining their trust in 2019 when meeting Chief Standing Bear; this was where priorities of making the film on location were made clear. The film includes many Osage communities, ensuring its authenticity remains clear. Its story is full of gruesome outrage following the murders of Mollie’s sisters. Mollie, who has diabetes, is Hale and Ernest’s next victim as he edges one step closer to taking control of her estate. As she grows more and more sick due to the poisoned insulin her husband is injecting her with, their troubles grow further beyond belief. Mollie had previously hired an FBI investigator, and suddenly, Hale and Ernest’s luck had fizzled out, with nearly two dozen murders coming out in the open.

“People say it’s three hours, but come on,” Scorsese recently said in an interview with The Hindustan Times. “You can sit in front of the TV and watch something for five hours.” With a runtime of 3 hrs 26 minutes, you can understand both sides – one pondering why a film needs to be this lengthy, but also Scorsese is right: we can binge a show for an entire day without zero complaints. Upon watching the film, you will soon realise that the runtime is not simply needed but is a requirement for a historical and educational film like Killers of the Flower Moon. The director is no stranger to a long movie, with his previous titles including The Irishman, The Wolf of Wall Street and Casino exceeding the 3hr mark. Many films in this modern day of filmmaking attempt to excuse a lot of ever-extending run times but fail to get the audience’s acceptance. Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon is a stunning example of doing this right without exhausting its narrative. Its storytelling is on a wide scope, never not telling us the truth about the horrifying events that occurred. Still, every character requires careful attention to truly grasp their part within this story.

Arguably, it’s not only its carefully thought-out screenplay that makes its runtime justifiable, but the performances. Lily Gladstone’s career thus far is more independent than showstopper, but her portrayal as Mollie Burkhart has allowed her to use her heritage and take that leap into a more mainstream role. Previously, Scorsese has been criticised for his lack of complex female protagonists, but he will win you over with Gladstone’s performance. Dicaprio and De Niro deserve a shower of praise for their work as Ernest and William Hale, mainly due to the authenticity of their roles, their clear research, and their willingness to educate themselves to take on such important roles.

Following on from Scorsese’s 2019 lukewarm gangster picture, The Irishman, Killers of the Flower Moon is a powerhouse of a film. It is a remarkable yet utterly shocking narrative that both serves the purpose of educating an audience and protecting a community that has held onto the horrors of their people for centuries. Films such as Killers of The Flower Moon come once in every blue moon. It is a rarity, but somehow, Scorsese understands the assignment when assigned to a story with humanity at its heart.

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