In more recent conversations, film royalty Martin Scorsese says there may be little time to make more films. Now at 80, his newest feature is perhaps the most intimidating beast he’s ever unleashed. Best known for Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Shutter Island, I’m more intrigued by his curious middle period: The Last Temptation Of Christ and After Hours. Even with his table-flipping remarks over Marvel and the superhero genre, can his latest win over new crowds?
In Killers Of The Flower Moon, an eyewatering three and a half hours is spent on the true story of the Oklahoma Murders during the 1920s. After the exile of the Osage Nation, their luck is on the up when the land they now frequent strikes oil. Leading to a boom in wealth, the local white community strive to marry daughters and break bread with the First Nation tribe in order to acquire inheritance. It’s a story I knew little about but found compelling. The inevitability of the conveyor belt of violence that ensues becomes a numbing agent, like with Scorsese’s past work.
Leonardo DiCaprio is Ernest, who marries Mollie Burkhart, played by Lily Gladstone. Ernest plots with his uncle – Robert De Niro, as William King Hale – when friends and family around Mollie gradually begin to die in mysterious circumstances. The nightmare becomes a reality as all is uncovered, and agent Tom White (a wry Jesse Plemons) starts to sniff around. As the case continues, Mollie makes a ghastly discovery that Ernest has been poisoning her insulin, leading to divorce.
In my personal opinion, these aren’t remarkable performances by DiCaprio and De Niro – which, given the run time, is important. We’ve seen it all before: Leo gurns for a lot of it as he snakes his way into the money. It’s the smooth way he owns lines, eyes glaring, that makes this a bit overfamiliar. De Niro has seen better days, with little of note in the portrayal of the subtle thuglike figure he’s done again and again.
The film proudly belongs to Lily Gladstone as Mollie. It was the rich, sombre note in her voice, her resilience, her avalanches of frequent grief that all stood out. My views on the Oscars have wavered the past few years, but Gladstone should be holding on to one soon for this. Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow turn up as the rowdy attorney and prosecutor for the court proceedings: some recognisable faces as the film is in its last laps. A supporting cast of First Nation actors bring their humanity and ancient culture to the big screen, on their terms and rightly so.
We seem familiar camera flexes: use of black and white photos, one big tracking shot, lovingly captured landscapes and more. Robbie Robertson’s score has little meat on it, the period hymns and spirituals having more weight. Naturally, Scorsese himself can’t resist another cameo, this time at the conclusion – a hackneyed radio play wraps up, as he shares with us Mollie’s fate. The final scene sees the Osage tribe today dancing in cyclical, counter-clockwise motion, as the film fades.
Dir: Martin Scorsese (15, 206 mins)
Killers Of The Flower Moon is in cinemas now
words JAMES ELLIS