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MOVIE REVIEW: All that glitters is black gold: a review of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

"Killers of the Flower Moon" joins the pantheon of films and will be one of the many accomplishments of Martin Scorsese when examining his filmography.

Epic in scale and scope, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ is another sweeping story from legendary director Martin Scorsese that highlights the relationship of crime and American history. Much like his earlier masterworks like ‘Gangs of New York,’ ‘The Irishman,’ ‘Casino,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘’The Irishman,’ and the like, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ is a study of the inner worlds of the people who’ve turned crime into their lifeblood. Based on the nonfiction book of the same name by David Grann, Scorsese takes his time to build a world at the turn of the century in America when the Native American tribe of Osage found oil in their lands and made them extremely wealthy overnight. It changed the landscape of that part of America, but it also brought in the white people who did everything they could to take that money for themselves.

At 206 minutes, Scorsese takes his time to introduce us into a world that we never get to see on cinema – a world where Native Americans were rich and powerful, wearing expensive clothes and jewelry while being served by white people – by putting into film, he cements this actual occurrence in history into an image we can carry with us after seeing the movie. By taking this narrative and putting it on the big screen, he highlights how in the 1920s, the white people were envious at the richness and power of the Native Americans. He introduces us to Ernest Burkhart (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a war veteran, who seems like he is never the smartest man in the room. He returns home to the ranch of his uncle, William King Hale (Robert De Niro), who takes him in and helps him get a job as a driver.

Within the first hour of the movie, Scorsese drills into us this universe. On one hand, the Osage people are wealthy but due to government policy, they need guardians to access their wealth and stigma and discrimination just hovers over the boundaries. William King Hale sells himself as a friend of the Osage people, but he likes to set up his men to marry the Osage women with the hopes of becoming a part of the will so that they can take the land if anything happens to their wives. It just so happens, Osage people are dying left and right and oftentimes, with no investigation.

And in the middle of all of this, Ernest falls in love with one of his regular clients, Mollie (Lily Gladstone). Mollie, with her sisters and aging mother, owns a huge property with a lot of oil and is one of Hale’s targets to acquire that land. He leverages Ernest’s and Mollie’s feelings to get his hands on the property and this is the crux of the film.

On one hand, this movie is exposing the lengths by which the white people have come to take what belongs to the Osage people and how it was protected by members of the government as it became a battle of the whites versus the Native Americans. On the other hand, it is also a cruel and brutal love story between a dumb, impressionable white man and his Native American wife, whom he doesn’t really realise he’s hurting in a huge, huge way.

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Scorsese uses the film’s epic running time to really lay the groundwork to show the complex relationship between his three lead characters: DiCaprio, De Niro, and Gladstone. The push and pull of these characters against one another is what makes this movie so powerful because in the backdrop of it all is the metaphor of America’s history left bare for us to criticise and challenge.

This is immense work from DiCaprio and De Niro. They are in fine form and working the multiple layers of their characters with ease. Gladstone is also luminescent. Mollie is silent but strong and oftentimes her character is still, taking it all in, and in later scenes, feels very strongly as tragedy hits her again and again. She stands on her own with her two Oscar winning co-stars and will probably deservedly earn an Oscar nomination herself. 

Unfortunately, Scorsese finds more interest in telling the story through the eyes of Ernest and leaves Mollie as the least developed character amongst the three. By choosing Ernest as the film’s point-of-view, he highlights the witless and unconscious act of destruction of the lives of the Osage people and makes this the point of the story. If it were Mollie’s movie, it would highlight the struggle against that destruction.

But I feel that Scorsese is out here to judge and criticize. He does not romanticize or glorify Hale or Burkhart’s actions. They are as reprehensible as they appear to be on the film. Scorsese doesn’t shy away from that. By doing so, he questions the idea of America’s greatness by amplifying the narrative of how this greatness was built on the robbing of the land and culture of the Native Americans.As a director, Scorsese has done a wide range of incredible films from ‘Age of Innocence,’ to his love letter to cinema in ‘Hugo,’ to his meditations on religion and faith in movies like ‘Silence’ and ‘The Passion of Christ.’ But it’s his films that delve into the dark soul of America like ‘Gangs of New York,’ ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ ‘The Irishman,’ ‘Casino,’ and even ‘The Departed’ that I feel is also an area of expertise on his part. The way by which he chronicles those lives and times and explores the factors that made America the way that it is. ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ joins that pantheon of films and will be one of his many, many accomplishments when one decides to look at his filmography. 

My Rating:



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Killers of the Flower Moon
Crime, Drama, Thriller
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