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'Killers of the flower Moon' movie review: An enveloping saga of greed and corruption

Updated on: 27 October,2023 01:09 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Johnson Thomas |

Killers of the flower Moon movie review: The film focuses largely on character development and visual story telling craft

'Killers of the flower Moon' movie review: An enveloping saga of greed and corruption

Still from Killers Of The Flower Moon

Film: Killers of the flower Moon
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, Jillian Dion
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rating: 3.5/5
Runtime: 206 min

Scorsese’s ambitious adaptation of David Grann’s 2017 non-fiction, investigative book spanning a six-year history from 1920 until 1926, of the same name, is a disturbing depiction of vile behavior hiding in plain sight, shrouded as it is by emotional affectation.

Scorsese has seemingly mellowed with age. His latest directorial effort is not a traditional gangster picture punctuated with sumptuous visceral violence but it definitely is a story about corrupt, violent, conscienceless men who don’t hesitate to go the distance for what they desire to achieve. It’s basically an intimate and detailed immersion in a horrific crime committed by predators.

“Do you see the wolves in this picture,” Ernest Burkhardt (Leonardo DiCaprio) reads aloud while interacting with his family - The wolves here are all in sheep’s clothing and the Osage people, simple folk with unheralded riches, find it difficult to sift through this over-eager bunch of White helpers, just scheming and waiting to pounce on them as prey.

After being pushed off their property and relocated to the presumed wasteland of Oklahoma around the turn of the last century (1920s), the Osage discover oil on their land. But it’s not a happy circumstance even if it gives them riches beyond all imaginings.The very people who drove them out now want a piece of this action, and the Kingpin is none other than William King Hale (Robert De Niro) a legend whose wily political machinations made him an ally to both the Osage and the white people, while busy hatching schemes to line his pockets any which way. Hale manipulates his  nephew Ernest who has recently returned home from the war, into wooing one of the wealthy Osage ladies, Mollie (Lily Gladstone) with the eventual aim of becoming sole heir to the Mollie's Osage family wealth. The Osage people are being murdered one by one and it's not long before an investigative agency steps in to unravel the mystery. Mollie Burkhardt obviously didn’t know that she would create history by helping found the FBI, though.

The film presents injustice as intrinsic to the formation of wealth and inequity and refers to pervasive horrors of a century, with telling pointers to the Tulsa Massacre and the Klu Klux Klan.

The script, a tapestry of enormous cultural wealth and intricate understanding, by Eric Roth and Scorsese, slow-burns around Ernest, Mollie, and Hale as they navigate through romance, vilest forms of corruption and death. This historical drama is also populated with unforgettable lesser characters and traditional passages that bring to light the ethnic riches of a fast depleting tribe.

Jesse Plemons as a Federal agent who leads the investigation into the Osage murders, Jason Isbell as Bill Smith, a brother-in-law of Ernest, John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser as opposing attorneys, Tantoo Cardinal as Mollie’s mother, and a varied array of musicians including Charlie Musselwhite, Sturgill Simpson, Pete Yorn, Jack White are some of the note-worthys. The musical coda at the end, a “true crime” radio broadcast, has Scorsese lending historic weight through an enlivening cameo.

De Niro unleashes sheer brilliance as the sociopath who can sell murder with guile. DiCaprio is an effective foil as the easily manipulated nephew who is looking for roots. DiCaprio’s Ernest gets visibly more complex as his love for Mollie gets more and more entrenched in Hale’s villainy. But it’s certainly Lily Gladstone who steals the show while playing the role of Mollie with an understated, grounded but dignified elegance of thought and body, without leaning into melodrama.

Rodrigo Prieto’s camera captures history with intensity and native ingenuity. Robbie Robertson’s minimalistic score underscores the character and depth of the narrative while lending tension and momentum to the essay. The narrative is richly imbued with a craftsmanship that lures you in even through its slow moving sequences and pace-killing fillers.

The film focuses largely on character development and visual story telling craft. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing may bear close scrutiny because of the over-indulgence in runtime but it goes without saying that she is also partly responsible for the consistent rhythm that keeps the audience enslaved to the screen all through what may seem like an overly ambitious (maybe unwieldy to some) 3 hours and 26 minute perspicacious and complex entreaty!

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