Killers of the Flower Moon: Martin Scorsese at 80
One of the cinema’s greatest filmmakers and perhaps the most outspoken and passionate advocate for the medium, Martin Scorsese, returns with his latest epic, Killers of the Flower Moon.
At eighty years old, one could be forgiven for thinking that the director might be thinking of winding down his ambitions given his already hefty contributions including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, to name but a few.
Yet, Killers of the Flower Moon is one of his most breathtaking works to date, in both scope and execution. Adapting David Grann’s non-fiction book of the same name, Killers takes place in the 1920s, as members of the Osage Native American tribe of Osage County, Oklahoma, are murdered after oil is found on their land, and the FBI, still in its infancy, decides to investigate.
Many years in the making, Scorsese was developing the project at the same time as shooting 2019’s The Irishman, but it was the worldwide pause of the COVID pandemic that led to a more thoughtful approach to adapting the book, turning the procedural detective drama of the book into a more personal and intimate look at the betrayals of the indigenous people of Osage County.
The film teams the director’s two best-known long-term acting collaborators, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, for the first time in a Scorsese picture and to great effect. DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart, a down-and-out WWI veteran who seeks work with his uncle William K. Hale, a particularly chilling and villainous De Niro. The newly found oil riches of the Osage nation are the target of Hale’s insidious scheming to defraud them of their rights to the oil through betrayal, deception and murder.
The final victim of Hale’s conspiracy is Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone), whom Ernest is tasked with marrying in order to strip the Osage Nation of their wealth, a plan complicated by the two falling deeply in love. It is Gladstone’s captivating performance that steals the picture and Ernest and Mollie’s relationship provides a tragic personalisation of the bloody exploitation of Native Americans.
Scorsese tells the story with all the finesse of a true master of the craft, but is still truly an innovator, thoughtfully reconsidering Hollywood storytelling. A thoughtful and long-overdue Hollywood picture reckoning with its own place in Western mythologising, Killers of the Flower Moon is a film that must be seen on the big screen. A true modern classic by a master.