In the ever-evolving landscape of cinema, where careers often burn brightly but briefly, few directors can lay claim to one spanning five decades, and even fewer can match the enduring brilliance of Martin Scorsese. With a filmography that includes classics like “Taxi Driver”, “Goodfellas”, and “The Departed” he has been, and still remains, a master storyteller with a keen eye for detail and deep understanding of human nature. His latest work, Killers of the Flower Moon, is no exception.
Set in 1920s Oklahoma, when the Osage people had become immensely wealthy due to the oil beneath their land, the film follows Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a World War I veteran who arrives in Fairfax and marries Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman. What appears to be a genuine romance soon reveals sinister intentions as Ernest becomes entangled in a plot orchestrated by his uncle, William Hale (Robert De Niro), to marry into the Osage families and claim their wealth by killing them off. This scheme, known as the Reign of Terror, results in the murders of over 60 Osage tribe members, and despite Hale’s efforts to divert attention, the FBI launches an investigation.
Scorsese, a master of the crime drama genre, skillfully crafts a visually stunning and emotionally resonant film that tackles a dark period in American history with unflinching honesty. From its very first frame, the film exudes undeniable respect and admiration for the Osage people and the breathtaking beauty of the Oklahoma landscape. It presents their traditions, rituals, and ceremonies with expansive wide shots and intimate close-ups. This cinematic portrayal vividly captures the pride and deep connection felt within the tribe, immersing the audience in their world.
Not only creating the perfect backdrop and atmosphere, the film also skillfully navigates the narrative within this rich cultural context, keeping it engaging and emotionally charged throughout. The characters are equally compelling, complex, and often shrouded in secrecy and inner conflict, making it difficult to predict the course of their fates. The ensemble cast is exceptional, with each actor delivering standout performances that could easily be considered the best of the year in their respective categories.
De Niro delivers a mesmerizing performance as the unscrupulous William Hale, capturing his imposing presence and sinister control over Fairfax and his family with remarkable nuance. His ability to convincingly portray Hale’s paternal concern for the Osage people, despite his profound amorality, is a testament to his exceptional acting prowess.
DiCaprio delivers a career-best performance, playing against type as the spineless and morally conflicted Ernest Burkhart. He flawlessly embodies Ernest’s contradictions, convincingly capturing his inner turmoil, physical transformation, and gradual descent into darkness.
However, it is Gladstone’s performance as Mollie Kyle that truly stands out, portraying a character symbolic of women manipulated and gaslit by ruthless men. She masterfully conveys Mollie’s emotions, from dry amusement to heartbreak, and her journey from genuine passion to understanding her husband’s true nature. This nuanced portrayal is both heartbreaking and inspiring and is the one to watch this award season.
Killers of the Flower Moon skillfully exposes a dark chapter of American history, highlighting enduring themes of power abuse, corruption, greed, prejudice, and racism that persist in our world today. The film’s poignant conclusion, with Scorsese himself addressing the audience and revealing there was no mention of the murders in Mollie’s obituary, starkly underscores the power of historical revisionism and the silencing of marginalized voices. Nevertheless, the film reminds us of the resilience of the oppressed and the artist’s role in bearing witness to injustice and giving voice to the voiceless.
As one of the last great auteur filmmakers, Scorsese’s films are more than just entertainment; they are works of art that challenge, provoke, and move us. In Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese recovers the humanity of a forgotten and tragic story, reminding us that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope. As a longtime admirer of Scorsese’s work, I feel incredibly fortunate to be alive at the same time as him to witness his genius in real time. His film is a masterclass in filmmaking and a testament to his endless creativity and artistry, a gift to film lovers everywhere.