Review: Killers of The Flower Moon

For all its good performances, it is too long for not much intrigue.

In the 1920s, the Native American Osage tribe’s land was rich in oil, bringing them riches and prosperity. But their servants, primarily white Americans, look to marry into these families… But some of them want even more.

Based off the book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders by David Grann, this film directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese is not the first film adaptation of the material. Tragedies of the Osage Hills in 1926, but also a later adaptation in 1959, The FBI Story.
In classic Scorsese fashion, the film stars Leonardo Di Caprio and Robert De Niro, both stars have collaborated with the director multiple times over several decades.

As it is, the film is a grim telling of an awful event; cruel and ignorant people exacting terrible acts against humanity for selfish reasons. It is over three hours long.

Scorsese is a man of precision details, and Killers of the Flower Moon is no exception. His previous film, The Irishman, for all its ropey CGI (which will probably be its most memorable aspect) also had incredible attention to detail; the man knows how to shoot and dress period dramas and thrillers. This newest entry never feels incorrect; it looks impeccable, the representation of Native American culture is excellent, and the time period’s changeable nature is well realized.
A most notable moment is Lily Gladstone’s character Mollie, waiting to be driven from town to her home by her driver Earnest (Di Caprio) and for all her and her people’s finery and poise, they are surrounded by noisy, boyish white men racing cars up and down the street. There’s a real sense of two worlds clashing together.

The performances are on point as well, especially Gladstone. Mollie has such a serene yet magnetic energy about her. There is a sense of warmth underneath the stand-offish and aloof exterior, but also a great emotional intelligence as well. On the flipside is De Niro, delivering a fantastically evil and manipulative jerk; you can tell that he and Scorsese have worked for many many years, and know what the other wants.

Gladstone and DiCaprio in one of the film’s lighter moments; also a moment of near total silence

But it is a long movie, 205 minutes (three hours and twenty-five minutes) and for the abovementioned integrity of the picture, it doesn’t intrigue. This was an issue in the review of Scorsese’s The Irishman as well, interestingly.

Now, we may well enter some spoiler territory here, so take this review as it is before going forward: The film is well made and well performed and directed, but it is too long and needs more intrigue and suspense to be worth the time.

Scorsese has gone on record saying that his film is less of a whodunnit and more a who-didn’t-do-it. Which is a cute thing to say, but the problem is… a whodunnit is intriguing. Those keep you watching.

Killers of the Flower Moon suffers because everything feels like a foregone conclusion. Played from Di Caprio’s perspective, and partly from Gladstone’s perspective, everything is quite obvious. When a Osage elder calls the white folk “vultures” destroying their culture near the start of the film, we the audience say: Yes, yes they are. History has told us that, the film tells us that. De Niro’s character being present and well-wishing to the Osages at every moment isn’t greying the morality or storyline… he’s the devil walking among them. In fact, it makes the Osages seem quite stupid, oblivious and ignorant. Which surely isn’t the intention.

All of this amounts to a grim, real conclusion that surprises nobody. The bad people are put in jail. The innocent suffer for no good reason. The really evil folk are released early.

The film picks up when the FBI become involved. Considering the film’s perspective was deliberately chosen by Scorsese and the writing team, one wonders how different (and better?) this story would be as a classic detective story… like the 1959 adaptation literally called The FBI Story?

Overall, it is a good period piece with some great performances. But it is slow, and the payoff isn’t terribly rewarding.

Additional Marshmallows: Several people in the audience left and didn’t return, at different stages of the movie. Say what you will about modern audiences, but these were varying age groups.

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