Martin Scorsese is a legend. The man has directed Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, and countless cinematic classics. Whenever he graces the big screen with his work, there is something to love. His new movie is Killers of the Flower Moon, an epic Western crime drama. This time, Scorsese unites two actors he has worked with extensively over the past few decades: Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. We follow the real-life story of the members of the Osage Native American tribe in the 1920s who get killed one by one, leading to an FBI investigation.
Scorsese has crafted a riveting adaptation of David Grann’s nonfiction book. Clocking in at three and a half hours, Killers of the Flower Moon is one of Scorsese’s longest narrative movies, but it does not drag for a second. Early on, the sweeping shots of the northeastern Oklahoma town establish the setting perfectly. Each moment is carefully calculated to send you into a story that few know about. The adaptation of Grann’s work is more brilliant when you realize which aspect of the story the movie was supposed to follow and you see the route they went down instead.
The book has a focus on Tom White, the lead agent sent down to investigate the murders. DiCaprio was originally going to play White, and the film would have played out similar to a police procedural film with a detective looking to solve a mysterious case. However, DiCaprio instead pushed to play Ernest Burkhart, a man who falls in love with a Native American woman named Mollie (Lily Gladstone). Ernest’s uncle is William Hale (De Niro), a man who presents himself as kind, but hides a sinister secret. This approach to the story ended up being a fantastic decision for the overall film.
Ernest and Mollie are the heart and soul beating at the center of Killers of the Flower Moon. They forge a beautiful connection early on. Some of the best moments are their tender moments, where they get to share time with each other away from the bleak setting surrounding them. The key conflict surrounding this narrative is Ernest’s relationship with William. He is the devil on Ernest’s shoulder, pushing him to perform actions that benefit William and are detrimental to Mollie. Ernest is pushed into uncomfortable situations, torn between two worlds and the people he is closest to.
A looming sense of dread surrounds the film as more members of the tribe are killed. As the narrative progresses, each character is pushed to their emotional breaking point. Although the film centers around Ernest and his journey, the story of Mollie is heartbreaking. As a member of the tribe, she grieves the losses of her loved ones while battling diabetes. Gladstone is incredible as this character, bringing a layer of sincerity and emotional weight to the film that will blow you away. She’s a lock for Best Actress at the Oscars this year, giving a standout performance while acting across two titans of Hollywood.
DiCaprio and De Niro are, of course, fantastic. These two have proven themselves to be some of the most consistently outstanding actors working in Hollywood, and they both have a long track record working with Scorsese. This is Scorsese’s first time collaborating with the two together on a feature film, and the results are as excellent as you would expect. DiCaprio gets to lose his temper here too, which seems to be a trademark of every film he does. Scorsese has always been a strong director of performances, and he pulls tremendous work out of these leads.
The supporting cast is great as well. Jesse Plemons plays Tom White, the agent character who was originally going to be played by DiCaprio. Plemons does wonderful work, coming in later into the narrative and making his mark. Academy Award winner Brendan Fraser arrives in a small role in the final hour and it’s wonderful to see his resurgence acting in a Scorsese picture across DiCaprio. Furthermore, the casting department went to extra lengths to cast the Osage tribe, and everyone in that section of the cast is giving captivating work.
Although Killers of the Flower Moon is not as entertaining as Scorsese’s other work and you don’t get into the headspace of Ernest the way you should, there’s a lot to admire about this film. It’s fascinating to see how far Ernest will go to hide from himself. The screenplay from Scorsese and Eric Roth tortures the characters. It’s gruesome without reveling in tragedy, and Scorsese’s superb handling of the material allows this movie to be truly special. A sadness permeates each character as they go through tragedies nobody should endure. We see the moral implications of every tough choice the easily corruptible Ernest makes. This film is another testament to the monumental work in front of and behind the camera.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: ComingSoon attended a press screening for our Killers of the Flower Moon review.