Martin Scorsese follows up The Irishman with another epic involving America’s treatment of indigenous peoples with a kind of sobering, contemplative magnetism. Meanderingly demanding, Killers of the Flower Moon tempers its energy off of avarice, corruption and intolerance that could be the acclaimed auteur’s most tragic, condemnatory film to date.
Scorsese and Roth diligently draw from New Yorker journalist David Grann’s non-fiction book where members of the Osage tribe of northeastern Oklahoma were rampantly dispatched in the 1920s under mysterious circumstances.
With the tribal land having the coveted black gold a respected ranching baron William Hale (filled with owlish, creepy allure by Robert DeNiro) his boneheaded Great War veteran venal nephew Ernest Burkhart (limned with jaundiced humanity by another Scorsese veteran Leonardo DiCaprio) is the secret to a vicious success. Especially as Ernest is becomes enamored with Osage heiress Mollie Kyle (endowed with tender cogency and grace by Montana Native American Lily Gladstone of First Cow).
The informative sprawling entertainment penned by Scorsese and Eric Roth (The Insider) begins in silent movie fashion with stylized news reels of the period and closes as a radio play from the clamminess of courtrooms and penitentiaries. Given the enormity of runtime depths of certain characterizations may not be stressed in favor of attitudes and thematic resonance. While the Osage, notably Mollie, might be truncated to emphasize the heartrending injustice perpetrated at hand. Though not hardly abandoned in the grand scheme after the carnage, illness and incarceration.
Whatever the case Flower Moon hardly wastes its sizable budget with Gladstone a soulful presence and emotional fulcrum locating the lovable aspects of DiCaprio’s troubled, feckless Ernest. The authenticity of such a period piece when Calvin Coolidge was in charge is much to behold for discerning cineastes from the actual land around towns like Fairfax. From Jack Fisk’s production design, Rodrigo Prieto’s creative lensing, Thelma Schoonmaker’s sharply rendered scene stitching, and the late Robbie Robertson’s bluesy percussive score Killers captivates more often than not.
If the triumvirate of Scorsese, DiCaprio and DeNiro (altogether they’ve worked with The Departed and GoodFellas director ten times) can be a little distracting having folks like Gladstone, Tantoo Cardinal as mom Lizzie Q, as well as Jesse Plemons as former Texas Ranger Tom White heading a federal bureau’s investigation into the grisly case is a benefit. Also, with the likes of John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser as prosecuting and defense litigators on the case which took some time to materialize. Like The Irishman Scorsese paints a menacing evolution in need of reconciliation of a what may have been a darker reality.