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‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ — a long and wild ride, but never boring

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ — a long and wild ride, but never boring
Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Killers of the Flower Moon'. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Now that Martin Scorsese’s ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ is on Apple TV+ and Video on Demand, it’s your chance to watch the Oscar-nominated true-crime epic at home, with the benefit of a pause button.

Three and a half hours…

If Killers of the Flower Moon’s 206-minute runtime put you off watching Martin Scorsese’s latest film at cinemas in October last year, you may be tempted now that you can view the true-crime epic at home, courtesy of Apple TV+ (and Video on Demand).

That curiosity may be especially heightened as the movie is in the running for 10 Academy Awards, including the big one – Best Picture. It’s an opportunity to have an informed opinion about the multiple Oscar nominee – but is it worth your time?

Killers of the Flower Moon is never boring, but it feels its duration.

When you suspect you’re entering the film’s final act, you realise there is still a whole movie length to go. Even disregarding the indulgent runtime, Killers of the Flower Moon still doesn’t sit among Scorsese’s greatest. The film consists of many appreciably excellent elements, but overall, it lacks the resonance of something like 2016’s Silence.

Structured, and played out, as a straightforward crime tale, Killers of the Flower Moon doesn’t leave you musing over its themes – barring one.

The film is based on the 2017 non-fiction book by David Grann, which explores a spate of real murders that took place in Prohibition-era Oklahoma, targeting the local Native American people.

With massive oil finds on their land, the Osage Nation enjoyed unprecedented wealth for people of colour in the US, putting them in the crosshairs of their white neighbours, who systematically worked towards funnelling the fortunes to themselves. However, with the local legal system controlled by the latter, there was no investigation and no justice, until the fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation became involved.

As a side-note, this was happening around the same time as the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, when a thriving black community was targeted for destruction.

Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Killers of the Flower Moon

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

That’s the overarching narrative of Killers of the Flower Moon. Except it’s not the taut and chilling crime tale implied by the trailers.

Events are ticked off, and murders pile up, but generally, the audience isn’t allowed to get to know the people-swiftly-turned-corpses, and therefore are not emotionally invested. Viewers are bounced along a timeline with no explanation of what year they’re dropped into – often you can only use the appearance of characters’ children as a gauge – and the film’s wrap-up of events is delivered as a rapid-fire segment on a radio show, narrated by Scorsese himself.

It turns out the filmmaker has a different focus on unpacking an unprecedented mass murder from the annals of history. Specifically, Killers of the Flower Moon plays out at an individual level, exploring murky human morality. 

As a result, the audience sees how World War 1 veteran Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) becomes complicit in the killings at the instruction of his uncle, William King Hale (Robert De Niro), who presents himself as one of the area’s upstanding citizens, and a close friend of the Osage. Weak-willed Ernest does what he’s told, at the exact same time he falls for and has a family with Osage heiress Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone). 

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Lily Gladstone, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

How can someone reconcile their love for a person at the same time that, motivated by greed, they commit atrocities that hurt that same individual? How can you console your partner with sincerity when you are the cause of their suffering?

Killers of the Flower Moon punches hardest when it grapples with this scenario. The film keeps viewers clenched tight in these moments, and it has a lot to do with the engrossing, very different performances from the film’s trio of leads. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: The best must-see movies you may have missed or overlooked in 2023

DiCaprio may not have earned an Oscar nomination for his work here, but it is one of his most striking portrayals. Completely forgoing likeability, Ernest is a dim-witted, slow-moving predator, while De Niro – who gets to actually act after what feels like years of just repeating one on-screen persona – embodies that special breed of callous evil couched in soft-spoken rationality. Meanwhile, Gladstone’s Mollie is fully aware of the coyotes around her, quietly observing as she craves honesty and justice.

Lily Gladstone in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ is one of his most striking portrayals. (Photo): Paramount Pictures

Killers of the Flower Moon may be punctuated by violence but it’s often the quieter instances – the conversations – that are most compelling.

That and the fact that the movie does an excellent job of showing how America has always been a jaw-droppingly weird place. Not just now. Viewers are as likely to shake their head in disbelief as chortle at the ridiculousness as they are invited into a time where grown men get their backside paddled as punishment inside Masonic Lodges, and the Ku Klux Klan enjoys daytime parades.

Then there are the inept criminals who fumble the simplest instruction, while peculiarities in a legal system meant that a man could request and receive unsupervised time with a witness against him. 

When interest in Killers of the Flower Moon flags, it’s these scenes that draw one back in, and carry you through to the end of its wild, sometimes bumpy ride – which is experienced in a very sleek vehicle. DM

Having been released in cinemas on 20 October 2023, Killers of the Flower Moon is now screening on Apple TV+.

This story was first published on PFangirl.com.

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  • T'Plana Hath says:

    Absolute snooze-fest. At 206 minutes, this should have been a mini-series. As for the performances, I haven’t hated Robert De Niro this much since 𝘑𝘢𝘤𝘬𝘪𝘦 𝘉𝘳𝘰𝘸𝘯 and I’ve been a huge fan ever since 𝘛𝘢𝘹𝘪 𝘋𝘳𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘳. I wanted to reach into the TV and punch Leonardo Di Caprio’s stupid jaw and tell him to talk properly! Lily Gladstone was impressive, however, but only because I didn’t know one could act while fast asleep. If 3-hour Scorsese ‘epics’ like 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘐𝘳𝘪𝘴𝘩𝘮𝘢𝘯 are your thing, this might be for you, but stacked against his other works – this was just mind-numbingly boring.

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