Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)
Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 3 hrs. 26 min.

Release Date: October 20th, 2023 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Martin Scorsese Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Cara Jade Myers, Janae Collins, Jillian Dion, Jason Isbell, Scott Shepherd, John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser

 


 

I

n the early twentieth century, oil is discovered on the land of the Osage Nation, quickly making the Native American tribe the wealthiest people in the region. When Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns from war, he is welcomed into his uncle William “King” Hale’s (Robert De Niro) home in Osage County, Oklahoma, where he becomes a cab driver. But it’s not long before the scheming old man convinces his nephew to court Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), one of the heirs to Lizzie Q’s (Tantoo Cardinal) substantial fortune in oil royalties. Burkhart soon succeeds in seducing and marrying Mollie, but additional hurdles await: several of her sisters and their husbands stand to inherit the lucrative headright first.

“Money flows freely here, now.” The ancient, ancestral traditions and ways of the Osage are steadily disappearing; but so too is the knowledge of fairly recent history – which is why this film begins with a quirky history lesson (accompanied by groovy tunes), to educate audiences on a tragedy akin to the Tulsa race massacre (a subject also directly mentioned in the context of the premise). A few stark contrasts in imagery and music abruptly shift the tone, chronicling notes on beliefs, wealth, health, racism, crime, and murders as the plot unfolds; there’s also time for romance (of the intentionally hollow kind), but the bulk of the story centers on the manipulation and exploitation of the Osage people as the primary players are introduced.

Since many viewers will be aware of the runtime prior to watching “Killers of the Flower Moon,” it puts a significant onus on the film to immediately prove that it isn’t wasting minutes. Everything should feel essential. Yet plenty of leisure is taken in the development of the characters – something that helps to flesh them out and demonstrate spectacular acting abilities. Yet the happenings during the first act are plain and routine; the pacing is unhurried and uninterested in building tension or anticipation, comparable perhaps to the opportunistic, preying men as they wait out sickly wives for inheritances. “Our blood is getting white.”

Eventually, a murder/mystery arrives, with more than an hour transpiring before a rudimentary investigation crops up. But it’s not much of a mystery; it’s revealed early on who the culprits are, what the conspiracies entail, and why the picture tends to use the villains as the chief perspective, lending to a lengthy wait for a hopeful comeuppance. This creates another predicament: the absence of a moral compass. It’s difficult to watch unsympathetic antagonists command the procession of events – and even harder when they remain in the spotlight for such protracted periods. Despicable people abusing their positions of power as the audience’s fundamental visual narrators is a tough sell. Augmented with duplicity, hatred, and corruption, the motivation is entirely greed and money; seemingly helpless victims continuously succumb to a staggering lack of heroism, of righteous retribution, of standard justice.

And it’s all so repetitive, with characters plotting and then executing their misdeeds, occasionally speaking plans out loud, only for writer/director Martin Scorsese to then show them in great, bloodthirsty detail. At one point, a persona describes a heinous murder and the aftermath, only for a previously unseen scene to follow, visualizing the whole ordeal (completely out of chronological order), as if the minds of viewers wouldn’t be able to think up what was just verbally illustrated. Scorsese clearly doesn’t want to leave anything to audience interpretation. Much of it is marked by a pervasive sadness, too, as the Osage struggle to be heard against coordinated traitors carefully insinuated into their lives.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is a sharp-looking film, as can be expected from its veteran filmmaker. But it’s in desperate need of editing, especially since it takes more than two hours before a proper, authorized, impartial investigation gets underway, momentarily resembling both the gangster-styled arrangement of assassinations and violence as seen in “Goodfellas,” and the crumbling apart of harebrained schemes by inept crooks from “Fargo.” Things pick up in the last act as consequences brew, but it’s too little to save the picture from its own monotony (it’s almost comical when a couple of big-name casting choices materialize only in the last half-hour).

It’s ultimately a ludicrously long-winded way to tell a rather simple story, especially when it boils down to money becoming a curse when envious others are willing to kill to take it away. The period, the topic, and the players may be important, particularly with the historical components, but this project wasn’t designed to be effective or entertaining in the process. Even the exceptionally odd framing device at the close, though moderately satisfying, risks taking viewers out of the movie, spoiling the appeal of ending on familiar characters and their words. “I ain’t got nothin’ but regret …”

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10