'Killers of the Flower Moon' (dir. Martin Scorsese) Film Review | JG Review
'Killers of the Flower Moon', dir. Martin Scorsese (206mins) | In Theatres October 20th, Apple TV+ TBA
Despite bunking off today to attend the London Film Festival, I've recently been spending my Saturdays on the rugby pitch dodging studs (both male and metal) and trying to brave my way across the field. It's been challenging, to be true, and refreshing to get out of a comfort zone oft-situated almost exclusively beneath a blanket, and with a cup of tea. But I realised on my bus to Picturehouse Central that no player on that pitch, no 'Number 9' or forward tank, could intimidate me as much as this morning's most threatening five words: two-hundred and six minute runtime...
I had the pleasure of attending a press screening of The Irishman (Scorsese's most recent release before Flower Moon) back in 2019, also at the London Film Festival. That clocked in at 209mins and remains the longest film I've ever seen, and I remember finding it gruelling to sit through even though I quite enjoyed watching the flick. Travelling into this morning's press screening was quite nerve-wracking, then, as I wondered whether I'd last the whole screening without leg cramps or emergency loo breaks--I've been micro-dosing my water intake for weeks.
I'm very happy to report, then, that I had no issue - physically or otherwise - with Killers of the Flower Moon's hefty duration. I'd like to say that it flew by, but it would be wrong to say this didn't feel its length. Rather, this is a film which twists and turns to cover a surprising amount of ground, with a narrative structure not unlike Oppenheimer's (which seems to end, only to pivot into a final hour of legal trials and political discourse). Flower Moon is far more enthralling than Oppenheimer, though, and Scorsese uses the film to remind audiences how adept he is at creating - and sustaining - tension over a wildly-long period of time.
His use of score here is, in particular, quite magnificent. Composed by longtime Scorsese collaborator Robbie Robertson (of 'The Band', who passed just prior to this release), these percussive, twanging strings are threateningly taut, relentlessly evocative and successful in transporting the viewer into this film's atmospheric Oklahoman wild west. There were multiple sequences within this film which had me marvelling at the world on screen; I felt like a visitor to Westworld, aware that the dusty roads upon which I strolled were unreal - reconstructions - but eager to surrender to the fantasy nonetheless. The American political intricacies which weave the film's narrative web all tickled my brain, too, with Hoover, the Klan, the Osage tribe, the Tulsa riots and Coolidge all somehow relevant to the story at hand.
This is a film based on a true story, and Scorsese's unflinching approach to these true crimes effectively drives home the brutalities of these mass murders, which horrified Osage County in the early 20th century. Scorsese explores these murders through the lens of Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone) and her husband Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio), and does so with such potent respect to the victims of those murders that I would argue this film seems equally committed to memorialising the late Mollie as it is to creating a gourmet crime drama. It's equally successful in both missions.
Lily Gladstone is the bedrock of this film, delivering an often-understated performance that's sure to absolutely blow you away. It is, as DeNiro points out about her character in the beginning of the film, what she doesn't say or do that reveals most about her; it's the quietness in her portrayal of Mollie that makes it so phenomenally powerful. Likewise, DiCaprio delivers a standardly excellent performance in the role of Mollie's husband. I'd also like to note that this is the best he's looked on-screen in quite some time (drop the hair routine, Leo, you've found yourself another barnet sweet-spot).
DeNiro is similarly stand-up in the role of Ernest's uncle, William 'the King' Hale, and uses his trademark charisma to create a villain with curious depth, who entices in spite of his moral quandaries. He emanates the kind of evil charisma that historically facilitates the rise of evil people into powerful roles, and I expect he'll find himself in the Best Supporting Actor race early next year, up against Robert Downey Jr (for the aforementioned Oppen-flick). There are, too, several well-known faces who crop up throughout this film in various supporting roles, but I refuse to spoil these delightful surprises for you here in this review...
It's time to wrap up my thoughts about Flower Moon, even though I admit I feel I've barely scratched the surface on my thoughts about the new release. But how could I hope to definitively recapitulate this project in a mere seven or eight small paragraphs? This is cinema at its greatest; thrilling, funny, and bold in the profundity of its curation. Killers of the Flower Moon reminds us all that long-form, clever filmmaking can and is thriving in 2023. Scorsese proves himself once again to be outrageously competent in the director's chair, as he crafts a film that's simultaneously meandering and narratively sharp. The script doesn't waste a second of its length, and cinematographer Rodrigo Pietro constructs visual imagery that made me well up on the basis of its beauty.
To quote Scorsese's granddaughter, this slaps. See it on the big screen - ideally at a midday showing, with a nice large coffee to keep you alert.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to wind down and get back to figuring out the meaning of the offside rule...
Written by James Green