Thought-provoking, powerful and terrifying are some of the words that spring to mind after watching legendary director Martin Scorsese’s new masterpiece, Killers of the Flower Moon.
Coming to us at a time when, only last week, we had a referendum about Australia’s First Nations people, Killers of the Flower Moon tells the story of the brutal murders of the Native American Osage people and forces viewers to confront some uncomfortable truths about the history and treatment of Indigenous peoples around the world.
Based on the book of the same name by David Grann, the film tells the gruelling story of the infamous Osage murders in Oklahoma during the 1920s. During that time, the Osage people were on a reserve secluded from white America and lived in relative peace.
But things changed when the tribe discovered that its land was rich with oil, the most sought-after resource in the world at the time.
Due to the oil and their exclusive ownership of the land, the Osage people rose in social status and power in Oklahoma to become the wealthiest people in the world, per capita.
What follows is an intense, brutal and often shocking depiction of the lengths that people and organisations went to to strip the Osage people of their new-found wealth and silence anyone who would speak out about it.
Stuck in the middle of this growing tension is Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart, a man married to Osage woman Mollie Buckhart (played to perfection by Lily Gladstone) and the nephew of scheming cattleman and business magnate William Hale (Robert De Niro), who plots to steal the tribe’s wealth through ruthless means.
DiCaprio’s performance of a confused man who loves his wife but is easily manipulated by his family is the best he’s been since his turn as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. Meanwhile, De Niro turns back the clock to show that, when interested, he is still one of the best actors working today.
All three of the leading actors deliver career-best performances and will be considered for next year’s Academy Awards.
Scorsese is one of those directors who attracts the best acting talent possible and his films are better for it. The film is sprinkled with brilliant cameo performances, including recent Best Actor Oscar winner Brendan Fraser as a defence lawyer, Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemons as an original detective of the FBI and even John Lithgow as a courtroom prosecutor.
Now the movie is long, really long. Including ads and credits, it clocks close to four hours at 221 minutes, and the hyper-extended runtime is expected to turn people away.
While that is a fair criticism, as it is a long time to sit in the same place without checking your phone or pausing, the pace and tension that Scorsese is known for means that every second of this epic is used to enrich characters’ motives, flesh out story beats and build intrigue until the inevitable tipping point.
While the film will be making its way to Apple TV in less than a month’s time, and it may be more appealing to take the movie at your own pace, I would encourage those brave enough to test the runtime to see it on the big screen. Scorsese is a man who makes movies for the cinema and this is his best in more than a decade.
The film is intense, as are most of Scorsese’s films – just look at Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and The Departed – but it is done intentionally, not to overpower viewers but to get them thinking.
The Osage murders are not commonly talked about in the United States, and are not taught or remembered, but the film asks: Should they be?
Killers of the Flower Moon is showing at Forum 6 Cinemas Wagga. Book your tickets here.