This year has been beyond wonderful for historical dramas. Amazingly, two of this year’s most acclaimed films are not only dramatic retellings of historical events but are created by two of the most prolific directors of all time. While Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” may have beaten Martin Scorcese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” at the box office, “Flower Moon” towers over Oppy as a masterclass in storytelling and directorial achievement.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” follows Ernest Burkhart, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Molly Berkhart, played by Lily Gladstone, as they navigate life under the pressure of a series of murders in a territory during an intense dispute driven by jealousy.
Any synopsis of this film won’t do it justice. As I watched the film, I realized that there is not a single moment that can be missed, which is a stunning achievement for a film that exceeds a runtime of three hours. Every event is important, every character is important, every name, every piece of the puzzle. Often, characters that I thought would only be used as a momentary device to further the plot became a foundational piece of the story. This became a beyond convincing way to keep the audience hanging on to every word, every shot, and every act. This made what was over three hours feel like less than two.
Unfortunately, there’s not much else I can talk about without spoiling the motivations of some characters, especially when talking about performances. If you’re not sold by what I’ve already said, then here’s the bottom line: “Killers of the Flower Moon'' is undoubtedly one of Martin Scorcese’s best films, and potentially the best film to come out so far this year. If you can stomach the runtime, I highly recommend giving it a watch.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Robert DeNiro.
His character, “King” William Hale is potentially one of the most evil characters ever put to screen. DeNiro’s short stature somehow towers over the rest of the cast as he becomes an irredeemable master of puppets. He’s a big fish in a little pond beside a gold deposit. A snake of the highest order, he writhes his way through the town of Fairfax pulling every string he can to make money off of the Osage tribe, even if it includes murder.
Scorcese has always been the master of the mob subgenre, and William Hale and his gang of wolves play to his strengths in an unprecedented way. Every action of Hale’s is expected, but somehow completely unpredictable. Robert DeNiro’s portrayal of Hale is unparalleled. He finds a way to portray being genuine with just a hint of malicious dishonesty. Though the audience is aware of his motivations from the get-go, he keeps the audience in suspense about how far he’ll go to get what he wants.
On the other side of this coin is Molly Burkhart, a character actively experiencing every injustice committed by someone who is, to her, an unknown party. But at around the halfway mark, the audience knows precisely what’s going on and how it’s happening, due to further insight into Hale’s motivations. We watch Molly suffer along with the Osage tribe as constant faceless crimes are perpetrated against them. Lily Gladstone’s performance is utterly heartbreaking. The toll that both Molly’s physical and mental health take on her is easily and profoundly apparent through Gladstone’s performance. Every intricate plot piece takes a visible toll on Gladstone, and the audience can truly feel that pain.
As may be evident by now, the performances and how they’re in “Flower Moon” are potentially one of, if not the most important parts of the film. Because every other performer shines so brightly in the film, Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance is somewhat disappointing. While everyone else intricately portrays their characters with subtlety and finesse, DiCaprio’s performance feels like a sledgehammer at times. However, this only happens a few times throughout the film, and while it is certainly detrimental to some scenes, it far from ruins them.
Apart from the performances, this film excels in all other aspects. The writing is painstakingly period-accurate and profoundly human. The editing makes the film flow like no other 3-hour film I’ve seen has. Visually, no other film released so far this year comes close. “Killers of the Flower Moon'' is a must-watch, and is easily one of Scorcese’s best.
Final Score: 9.5/10