'Killers of the Flower Moon' Review
For thousands of years, long before any expeditionaries from the Old World came to The Americas, the scattered and nomadic indigenous peoples conquered the punishing elements of nature from arctic lands as far north as what is now Alaska down to the sunbaked plains of what is now Uruguay. Occasionally, their knowledge and traditions, forgotten and shoved into the annals of history books, surface in American arts and cultures. However, seldom are they ever portrayed as paramount. Their misrepresentation echoes even in the terms used to describe them. Never at any point in their history have “Native Americans” been under one umbrella, culturally, governing or otherwise as the term would suggest. Rarely can any identity term accurately lump two entire continents of people into two words.
With “Killers of the Flower Moon” set within the very niche and unexamined history of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, one cannot help but hope that Martin Scorsese will deliver in the same powerful way that he does with his Italian-American crime epics and deeply personal character dramas. To this regard, Scorsese more than expertly delivers “Killers of the Flower Moon” as one of his most serious productions, filled with beautiful direction, editing, acting, writing and set-pieces, that really does connect to the audience via the passionate love and brutal violence we are shown across its three-and-a-half hour runtime.
This film, with perfect clarity, gives a prime example of when a film should be 206 minutes long. The editing by Thelma Schoonmaker is mature. It is not afraid to build dreadful suspense, flourish the film’s artistic vision, and not need to spoon feed the audience with constant eyeball stimulation. “Killers of the Flower Moon” begins with the story of the Osage Nation, their existence endangered with the turning of the 20th century as modernization slowly squeezes its chokehold on the American West. With their lands unfit for crops, they turn to embracing modernization, and begin oil drilling. Their exploits turn out to be so fruitful that in less than a generation, the Osage people completely indulged in Tiffany's jewelry, Louis Vuitton suitcases, luxury cars, massive mansions, airplanes, boats, and everything else that money can purchase.
Of course, the good times don’t last for long. With many Americans coming to Oklahoma to work for the newly formed Osage aristocracy, some of them have more sinister motives against them. Over the course of several years, dozens of Osage women wed themselves to American men, only to be found brutally murdered some time later, their husbands inheriting the Osage treasures and lands. But when a murder of an Osage newly-wed woman is so brutal and vicious that no one can possibly turn their head in false ignorance, the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation decided to investigate only to find out how far up the conspiracy against the Osage Nation really goes.
This layered cake of conspiracy topped with murder mysteries is devoured methodically throughout the runtime, mainly due to the masterclass performances by our three main characters: Osage Mollie (Lily Gladstone), her husband and World War One veteran-turned-cab driver Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), and the sinister mastermind conning everyone throughout, William Hale (Robert De Niro). All of their performances are worthy of “Best Performances of 2023” awards and accolades for being able to keep this film running so smoothly for the most part, especially for bringing to the surface this world and story within the very marbled and dirty fabric of American history that is often overlooked.
This film’s address to the injustices against Native Americans goes without saying, though it does not try to paint the Native Americans as perfect, powerless damsels in distress, nor the FBI as white men saving the day from the other evil racist white men. That would be too easy and, frankly, historically inaccurate. Violence, murder, and yes, racism, does go both ways, and oftentimes against one’s own people. The Osage Nation and the Americans living among them bloodlet themselves for wealth, and of course it wouldn’t be a Scorsese movie if the downfall was not as shocking and romanticized as the rise.
With all the praise that this film is getting, one has to wonder, “Does it even do anything wrong?” Well, despite the time which this film takes to unravel its story, there are some aspects that are left unanswered, problems unaddressed. We are introduced to the Osage Nation just as fast as we see them completely assimilate to the materialism that is vastly different from what they’ve ever had. How come there are no elders or authority figures within the Nation criticizing the divulgement by their children into American clothes and language? What are their beliefs on the act of turning sprawling grasslands into oilfields? Spending more time addressing these questions instead of belaboring some points about the conspiracy would have better presented the Osage people instead of a generic Native American group that apart from us knowing them as Native Americans, do not hold any significance in identity.