By – Nick Adrian
For fans of Martin Scorsese, Westerns, Indigenous stories
Can you find the wolves in this picture?
Veteran filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s latest feature, Killers of the Flower Moon, about a spineless war veteran (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the 1920s who follows his rich uncle’s (Robert De Niro) orders to marry into the Osage Native American tribe to inherit their oil money. To speed up the process, however, Hale is ordering a series of grizzly murders of the Osage people. The Western crime saga has taken many pre-production turns in its moments up to release – perhaps the most important being the switch from the original book source’s focus on Federal Agent Tom White’s (Jesse Plemmons) investigation into the crimes to the source of the crimes themselves. This switch not only told a more complex, heartbreaking love story – it highlighted the presence of the Osage themselves. Careful to remain respectful toward the subject matter, Scorsese worked closely with surviving Osage members on how to best represent them and a story that’s more or less been swept under the rug for the past century.
What follows is a film that stands out brilliantly in Scorsese’s filmography. While it features some of his familiar crime tropes, the harshness behind each murder is accentuated. The suspense of the typical murder-mystery-thriller is gone – rather, we’re forced to sit with the inception of the crimes themselves and ultimately, their aftermath. The camera doesn’t turn away – the audience is meant to feel these deaths to their core. It’s a tense, heartbreaking watch that will leave a lump in your stomach; one of his most violent movies – and not strictly physical.
The film’s performances are what truly sell the intensity of the subject matter. De Niro and DiCaprio are both longtime Scorsese collaborators, still churning out career-best work: De Niro as the quiet, reserved, intimidating mind behind the crimes and DiCaprio as a confused, easily-influenced, imbecile who stumbles deeper and deeper into trouble. A supporting cast of familiar favorites and players are peppered into an outstanding cast (Brendan Fraser, John Lithgow, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Michael Abbott, Jr.) but the heart and center of the film belongs to Lily Gladstone as Ernest’s wife, Mollie Burkhart, helpless as she watches her family die around her. The quiet restraint in her performance might be the best of the year – not many actors can say so much with a piercing glare or worried concern. A performance where expressions speak volumes and they speak loudly.
As the film’s focus shifted from the early form of the FBI’s investigation to the relationship between Ernest and Mollie, it also shifted more focus on the Osage people. This meant crafting a Western – a genre famous for its disrespectful Native American representation – that was still able to respect and honor the people it depicted. Scorsese took great efforts in this, visiting surviving Osage people and having them consult during production. While a film with this subject might have been better made by someone of Osage heritage, that film might not have been made at the same scale and reach without the Scorsese name attached. That day will hopefully come when an Indigenous filmmaker can tell this story themselves but ultimately, Killers of the Flower Moon is not for that audience. That audience is all too well aware of the subject matter – they lived it and they still live with it. Instead, this film is more to hold up a mirror to those responsible – to take a good long look at ourselves and the evil that’s been committed all in the name of money – and how little we’ve grown since. Killers of the Flower Moon is for the wolves…but will they listen?
Now playing at the Sidewalk Cinema
Written by: Nick Adrian
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