Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon": A Deep Dive into Dark History


In the realm of cinema, the distinction between a "long" film and an "epic" one is often blurred. Martin Scorsese's latest venture, "Killers of the Flower Moon," falls into the former category rather than the latter. It marks the acclaimed director's second consecutive three-and-a-half-hour cinematic exploration of a true story, generously backed by a streaming service driven by prestige — this time, Apple TV+.

Following Netflix's liberality with Scorsese's "The Irishman," this new release bears similarities in its weaknesses and exhibits slightly subdued strengths. The film offers a raw, even grim portrayal of the ruthless murder of Native Americans a century ago to gain access to their oil wealth, all while local authorities looked the other way.

Scorsese, committed to historical and cultural accuracy, has assembled a cast of both long-time associates and newer collaborators. Robert De Niro, a collaborator spanning decades, partners with Scorsese in what feels like an opus exposing America's violent past. Additionally, "Flower Moon" marks Scorsese's sixth feature film with Leonardo DiCaprio, although due to the limited scope of his character, DiCaprio struggles to infuse the movie with the emotional depth commensurate with its grand scale.

The standout performance comes from Lily Gladstone as Mollie Kyle, an Osage woman whose family stands to inherit substantial oil wealth. This newfound affluence propels them to become the wealthiest individuals per capita on Earth, albeit at an unimaginable cost. Gladstone delivers a powerful, authentic performance, albeit hampered by occasional gaps in the character's development.

Set against this backdrop, Bill Hale (played by De Niro), the town's leading figure, masquerades as a friend to the Osage Nation while secretly aiming to seize control of the oil rights. His nephew, Ernest Burkhart (portrayed by DiCaprio), freshly returned from World War I, arrives in Oklahoma with aspirations of wealth. Marrying an Osage woman offers the quickest route to financial gain, a dynamic recognized by both sides.

Inexplicably drawn to Ernest, the composed Mollie becomes entangled with him. As their relationship deepens, Ernest's involvement in his uncle's ruthless schemes intensifies, further complicating the already grim proceedings.

Scorsese, alongside screenwriter Eric Roth in adapting David Grann's book, meticulously unravels this sequence of events, shedding light on a revelatory chapter in US history. The film addresses the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, illustrating the brutal treatment of people of color a century ago, shielded from repercussions.

A turning point arrives with the entrance of the fledgling FBI, a moment that injects a much-needed shift in the narrative, leaving one wishing for its earlier introduction. Scorsese's foray into streaming has yielded films that, while not exceptional, benefit from the reputational draw of the director and his star-studded ensemble.

"Killers of the Flower Moon" will enjoy a wide theatrical release, including screenings on numerous Imax screens, adding a sense of grandeur to its handsome period drama aesthetic. Scorsese's latest work, like its predecessors, dives into a shadowy history but ultimately delivers a bit less bang for the buck.

"Killers of the Flower Moon" premieres on October 20 in US theaters and will later be available on Apple TV+. It carries an R rating. (Disclosure: Lowry’s wife works for a unit of Apple.)