**Spoiler warning for the entire movie. I strongly recommend you watch the movie before reading this review.***
Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon has him firing on all cylinders for the entire runtime. That is more than enough reason to see this in theatres.
Killers of the Flower Moon tells the very real and very tragic story of the Osage people and the murders that occurred once oil was discovered on their reservation. The film centers on Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he arrives in Fairfax, Oklahoma after serving in World War I. He immediately finds solace at the house of his uncle, William “King” Hale (Robert De Niro), and begins working as a cab driver in town. During the film, Burkhart meets Mollie (Lily Gladstone) and they fall in love and get married. Since Mollie, however, is a member of the Osage tribe and entitled to untold riches in oil rights, Hale and Burkhart start murdering Mollie’s family to obtain power over the land.
This is a three-and-a-half-hour long movie, and I promise there is not a wasted shot. Scorsese masterfully uses every second of screen time to craft what might be his best film. Often the camera will linger, or a shot will follow characters through a building, only for it to cut short to an act of horrific violence. The film begins with tragedy, endures through tragedy, and ends in tragedy. Scorsese refuses to give the audience any moment of relief. Every time we watch Burkhart betray Mollie by killing her sisters or poisoning her insulin, we witness Scorsese’s most effective on-screen villains: incompetency and complacency.
With Ernest Burkhart, DiCaprio and Scorsese did not make a villain that is dastardly, suave or maniacal. Instead, Burkhart is a simpleton who is constantly manipulated by De Niro’s Hale into carrying out his plans. Ernest has no agency. He is a vessel for his uncle’s cruelty, but he truly believes he is doing what is best for his family. That might be the film’s best tactic: displaying complacency as incompetence, suggesting that incompetence is the true killer.
“The film begins with tragedy, endures through tragedy and ends in tragedy.“
There is not a single bad performance anywhere in this film. Lily Gladstone is devastating in her role as Mollie and her portrayal should be star turning. Leonardo DiCaprio branches out as a bumbling but sinister simpleton, and it might be his best performance yet.
But I think the standout performance, in a sea of standout performances, is from Robert De Niro. As William Hale, I did not see him as Robert De Niro playing a character. He was just Hale. Even when he is in jail and facing trial for his crimes, De Niro is mesmerizing to watch. He’s one of the greats, so late in his career, but he still delivers a masterclass.
As great as this movie is, people are constantly talking about Martin Scorsese’s comments about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). After watching this, he’s right. Nothing the MCU can do will reach half the artistic heights of this movie. Killers of the Flower Moon forces you to engage with the blood, oppression and injustice the American empire is built on. Avengers: Endgame lets you watch Captain America lift Mjolnir. Art should always challenge us to look inward, reckon with the world around us and strive to be better people. Entertainment doesn’t, but it doesn’t have to. That’s why Martin Scorsese makes art, and the MCU has theme parks.
Cover Photo via killersoftheflowermoonmovie.com