Killers of the Flower Moon

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Distributed by: Apple TV+

Written by Taylor Baker


Scorsese’s latest film boasts a monumental runtime of 3 hours and 26 minutes, titled “Killers of the Flower Moon.” It’s an adaptation of a non-fiction historical account of what happened in the 1920s to the Osage people living in Oklahoma. Their reservation abundant in oil wells, gifts each member of the tribe a stipend of those wells’ profits. Robert De Niro’s King Hale plays the film’s central villain, positioned as a faux rancher in the area. He’s uncle to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart and runs a local mafia whose business centers on acquiring the rights to the oil profits through the killing of the people of the Osage community.

“The Killers of the Flower Moon” is familiar territory for Scorsese, the winding tale is a triptych of sorts hinging on King Hale (De Niro), Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio), and Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone) Ernest’s wife. Mollie is a full tribe member who stands to inherit her family’s oil rights. The film is most effective when it’s through her eyes that we experience the tragedy of the killings. It is at its least effective when it plods along with Ernest as he stumbles his way through orchestrating murders, answering to King Hale, and committing various crimes. Scorsese works to paint a portrait of a misanthrope with Ernest, comparatively showing his home life against his work–criminal–life. The consequences of this depiction aren’t nearly as fruitful as the total runtime we spend with him would indicate, and that wouldn’t bother me quite so much if DiCaprio’s mouth prosthetics weren’t so distracting.

His mouth prosthetics draw points to each of his cheeks. With the clear goal of making DiCaprio appear harsh, but the sharp angularity they cause stands out in every close-up, and largely in any scene with his face in focus. If Marlon Brando’s mouth prosthetics in “Apocalypse Now” are notable for their ability to accentuate a character’s face and presence and make the role more convincing, DiCaprio’s perform just the opposite.

Scorsese uses natural light to strong effect, in one scene marking De Niro’s King Hale with a dark shadow between his eyebrows on the bridge of his nose while he’s questioned by Jesse Plemons’s Tom White. It’s an effective visual cue to King Hale being marked and targeted. The landscape shots orchestrated by Rodrigo Prieto are impactful. The rolling plains taper off in the distance while in the foreground sits an unassuming home that is center stage for the wickedness the film hinges upon. Sometimes the landscape shows more oil wells than one can count, pumping furiously, and darkening the skyline; implying a sense of things more effectively than any words could.

Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart is the star of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Poked, prodded, and lied to, she not only stands in allegorically for survivors of the killings but brings authenticity and humanity to a film that is heinous to the point of cartoonishness. “Killers of the Flower Moon” is a strong historical retelling of an abominable series of killings. But it suffers for straddling the line between an American biopic and a Scorsese gangster film.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” Trailer

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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