Review: Martin Scorsese’s Epic and Deeply Serious ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

Let me start with what everyone’s secret worry regarding Martin Scorsese’s new historical drama Killers of the Flower Moon. Based on my own personal experience this past weekend, if you carefully schedule and use the restroom right before your showtime, you might be able to sit through the giant 205 minutes. But if you really are worried about your behind sitting that long in a theater, you might want to wait until the film hits AppleTV soon.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get into the nitty gritty of the film’s quality. While some have been arguing Scorsese’s latest is a good example of why we should bring back intermissions, critics and film fans have been calling Killers of the Flower Moon one of the most important films in recent years. They had anxiously awaited the collaboration between Scorsese and his two favorite leading men, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.

One thing instantly noticeable about Killers of the Flower Moon is that there isn’t much mystery or tension throughout the picture. The direction and narrative are very casual and straightforward. In fact, the one complaint I’ve seen regarding the film is that there isn’t really any suspense.

We know from the get-go nearly all of the men in the story are despicable and selfish. Our male leads are World War I veteran Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio), who is a cowardly simpleton, and his powerful, greedy uncle Bill Hale (De Niro), who encourages Ernest to marry local Native woman Mollie Kile (Lily Gladstone) to inherit the oil money she’s owed. At the same time as Ernest and Mollie’s courtship and marriage in 1921-26, multiple women in Mollie’s family are victims of a string of murders throughout Osage County, Oklahoma.

The cast of Killers of the Flower Moon includes John Lithgow, Jesse Plemons, Brendan Fraser, Tantoo Cardinal, William Belleau and even musicians Jason Isbell, Pete Yorn and Jack White. Canadian musician Robbie Robertson provides the score, which is his final released composition following his death in August.

One suggestion I’ve seen to fix the lack of suspense in the movie is that Mollie should have been the protagonist instead of Ernest. I do think this would have been the more traditional route to go if any other filmmaker had helmed it, especially if the director were a woman or Native American.

David Grann’s original 2017 non-fiction book also called Killers of the Flower Moon focuses specifically on the FBI’s investigation of the murders, and Scorsese wisely realized this plot would have been redundant — and made for a pretty short film. Mollie is the one consistently innocent and sympathetic character in the story, though not without some puzzling moments herself.

There are plenty of little things I would have altered if Killers was a more conventional feature. DiCaprio’s distracting caped teeth, for example, and the out-of-place final scene. I did enjoy the way alcoholism and diabetes were treated in a community of this era, as well as the scenes where the whites and Native Americans bond together at Christian church services.

But I don’t think Scorsese was committed to making a standard film this late in his career. He wants to send a message with atmosphere and tone. The incidents in Killers of the Flower Moon are a part of real history and should be remembered and learned from. He’s showing us sometimes just complicity can be as harmful as physical action. The murders and other crimes exposed in the movie should have never happened.

Killers of the Flower Moon is being sold as a real-life love story, but it’s barely that. It’s about families betraying each other for money. It may not be as crowd pleasing as Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer or Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, but it’s a deep, serious subject for those who are interested in learning.