Sunday, October 22, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon: a new Scorsese film

When the Osage people find oil in their newly acquired land, hungry, greedy wolves come prowling in the guise of white cattle barons: white men courting and marrying Osage woman only to kill them in order to get their new-found wealth. This is the bare bones plot of Martin Scorsese's new film Killers of the Flower Moon, an epic film clocking in at just under four hours. The film is an examination of American greed and the relationship between the native nations of America, and the settlers that hungered for their land. Scorsese has made a film that is part western, part murder mystery, and court-room drama with shades of the conclusion of Goodfellas. The film premiered out of competition at the 76th Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and it was curiously absent from the film festival circuit. With a budget reported to be over $200 million, the film avoided the film festival circuit in order to make money, but with such a massive running time, which means fewer daily showings, the film is going to have a hard time making its money back in its initial theatrical run.  As of today, the film has grossed $23 million in the United States and Canada, and $11 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of only $44 million.

I saw the film today, and it is the best work that Robert de Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio have done in quite a while. This is De Niro's tenth collaboration with Scorsese, and he gives a subtle performance as William King Hale, the mastermind of the Osage massacre. It is great to witness such inventive acting from De Niro, even mastering a Midwestern accent to perfection. Mr. DiCaprio is no stranger to Scorsese's films either. In this, his sixth collaboration with the director, he also gives a performance rooted in nuance; and although he seems to progress through the role with a permanent frown on his face, he brings to life the role of Ernest Burkhart, who becomes a pawn in Hale's greedy schemes.

But is is Lily Gladstone, an actress that portrays Mollie, Ernest's Native American wife, who casts the longest shadow in the film. Ms. Gladstone, who is part Native American (and who is related to British Prime Minister William Gladstone), grew up in the Blackfeet Nation reservation, and has only made a handful of films before this one. You will not forget her expressive face and her sorrowful eyes. Many of the members of the Osage Nation also took part in the film behind the scenes, as well as taking important roles in the film.

Mr. Scorsese is in top form as a director, even making an Alfred Hitchcock-like cameo appearance in a denouement to the film that I can only describe as inspired. The final shot of the film, as memorable a shot as can be, brings to mind scenes from Scorsese's 1997 Kundun, and it populates the field of flowers of the title with a vibrant homage to the Osage people.

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