‘Killers of the Flower Moon’: A masterful American odyssey with Wash. ties
Oct 21, 2023, 2:55 PM | Updated: 10:06 pm
(Photo courtesy of promotional materials from Apple Original Films)
With director Martin Scorsese bookending his latest historical epic with a pair of appearances — the first being a direct thank you to the audience and the last being an in-film cameo — he’s distinctly coming to terms with his mortality as his film documents the ruthless yet systematic genocidal takedown of the then-wealthy Osage Nation and its people in the post-World War I American frontier.
Across its three-and-a-half-hour runtime, “Killers of the Flower Moon” follows a courtship and ensuing marriage between an Osage woman Molly, played by Lily Gladstone, and a simple-minded, white veteran, Ernest Burkhart, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, as the latter struggles to balance his love for Molly and the biddings of a henchman who happens to be his rich uncle, William Hale, played by Scorsese’s first muse Robert De Niro.
Based on David Grann’s nonfiction book of the same name, “Killers of the Flower Moon” marks the first time Scorsese has ever worked with both DiCaprio and De Niro on a film together.
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At times an investigative mystery, at moments a powerful romantic tale, and consistently a story about American crime, this is Scorsese’s first foray into the Western genre, which is hallowed ground for some of our greatest filmmakers.
The Wild West and its various stages of conquest is as alive in film today as it was when John Wayne was twirling a rifle against the backdrop of the American Southwest. Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus “There Will Be Blood” features plentiful oil fields on uncompromised land and its inevitable consequences of said discovery, while Joel and Ethan Coen’s Best Picture-winning “No Country for Old Men” brings the frontier to the modern world. Jane Campion’s masterful “The Power of the Dog” flips the genre on its head altogether, just as Quentin Tarantino did with “Django Unchained.”
But unlike the previously mentioned films, this blood-drenched Western prominently features the indigenous people of America. Christopher Cote, an Osage language consultant on the film, revealed some “strong opinions” on the film in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, including the decision to have the audience see this violent tyranny through the eyes of a white man, Burkhart.
“I think, in the end, the question that you can be left with is: How long will you be complacent with racism? How long will you go along with something and not say something, not speak up? How long will you be complacent? I think that’s because this film isn’t made for an Osage audience, it was made for everybody, not Osage. For those who have been disenfranchised they can relate, but for other countries that have their acts and their history of oppression, this is an opportunity for them to ask themselves this question of morality, and that’s how I feel about this film.”
Whether or not everyone will agree with Cote’s takeaways, debating whether or not the film should have been more focused on the Indigenous peoples and not the wolves that feast upon them, it’s hard to deny that Scorsese is in full control of this meticulously studied masterpiece. From its stunning production design to Thelma Schoonmaker keeping the film’s tempo on beat with her ingenious editing style to the late Robbie Robertson‘s haunting tribal score, anchored by a lumbering war drum to remind the audience that tumult and pain are always lurking around the corner for the Osage tribe, nothing in its 206-minute runtime gets away from Scorsese’s enduring thesis.
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It’s a near-impossible feat from DiCaprio, who’s incessant on only taking on the most complicated of parts at this point in his career, as he fails to be boxed into the archetype of Scorsese’s past anti-heroes, but can’t be defined as a traditional hero either. Without any charisma to lean on, DiCaprio delivers his most labyrinthine performance to date.
But similar to Cillian Murphy’s turn as J. Robert Oppenheimer in “Oppenheimer,” DiCaprio’s performance doesn’t overpower the rest of the cast, allowing every subsequent actor to steal scenes when necessary.
And no one did it better than Lily Gladstone, whose eyes pierce through the screen as she alternates between her native language and English. Her journey is nearly impenetrable, donning various Pendleton blankets to shield as much of her internal pain as she can. When its finally too much to bear, her screams and wails brought shivers and convulsions upon the audience as viewers threw their hands over their eyes.
But this is a film about greed, a motif consistent throughout Scorsese’s catalog. While Jordan Belfort’s greed represented an industry in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a singular man’s greed in “Killers of the Flower Moon” represents a country born on the principle that it can be stolen if you’re barbarous enough. Scorsese’s critique on Manifest Destiny is channeled through DiCaprio’s tumultuous relationships with those he holds dear, and it’s delivered with devastating effect.
Culminating in jaw-dropping silhouettes of men encased in fire, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto created Hell on Earth for the Osage Nation for viewers to witness, only for this moment in time to be erased by a coat of white paint. Scorsese’s films have always been drenched with violence, but the murders on screen in “Killers of the Flower Moon” are some of his most gut-wrenching, with the audience forced to sit with the painful aftermath. There’s a reckoning in his oft-violent style, as if Scorsese is acknowledging his past films and how isolated this film can be compared to the rest of his works.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” reveals a tapestry of systematic cultural whitewashing against the Osage, as members attempt to overcome famine, disease and alcoholism. The white members of the community learn to manipulate those struggles. Scorsese isn’t shy to display how everything about Manifest Destiny was created to kill off Native Americans, with bloodshed always an effective final expedient.
The Osage pray for a miracle throughout, channeling their dwindling culture to reach out to higher powers after being stonewalled by police and government, but as William Hale said, “expecting a miracle to make all this go away? You know they don’t happen anymore.”
“Killers of the Flower Moon” is a haunting triumph as Scorsese attempts to create an everlasting film for the sixth straight decade.
Frank’s score: 4/5
Double feature choice: “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Local ties to ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’
Before Lily Gladstone became Molly Burkhart in what’s assumed to be an Oscar-nominated performance, she lived in Mountlake Terrace and attended Mountlake Terrace High School before studying at the University of Montana. She originally grew up on the Blackfeet Nation reservation in Montana as she has Blackfeet and Nimíipuu heritage. She moved to Snohomish County after middle school.
As My Edmonds News reported, fans were invited to join friends, teachers, and former classmates of Gladstone for a reserved screening of the film, which was shown Friday evening at the Regal Cinebarre Mountlake, in Mountlake Terrace.
The Mountlake Terrace premiere was spearheaded by Kimberly Nelson, a retired Mountlake Terrace High School teacher who also helped with the school’s drama department and remembers Gladstone fondly.
“She was always well-grounded and kind,” Nelson said of Gladstone to My Edmonds News. “She had a quiet humor.”
Nelson went on to describe Gladstone as a “comedy assassin” because she would say a quip that would get the entire room laughing.
She also noted Gladstone was always her own woman, even at 15. Nelson added Gladstone has a classic beauty that transcends time.
Gladstone also appeared on the cover of British Vogue with Leonardo DiCaprio alongside her while adorning a blanket made by Seattle’s very own Eighth Generation. Specifically, it’s the local company’s Coast Salish Pattern Wool Blanket.
“It’s black and grey and wool. It has this wonderful feel to it, but it’s also iconic in that American art and design is shaped by Native art and design,” Colleen Echohawk, CEO of Eighth Generation, told KING 5. “Real American art and design is Native American art and design so we think this blanket is so popular with so many people is that it gives off that vibe of authenticity of a Native product that people can put into their home.”
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Martin Scorsese may have just released his 26th feature film a month before he turns 81, but he’s already locked in on his next project. The acclaimed director is set to adapt another nonfiction book, this time “The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder.” “The Wager” focuses on a British ship crew’s journey for treasure, their subsequent stranding on a desert island and the subsequent events that unfold upon their return. Leonardo DiCaprio will lead the cast.