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Killers of the Flower Moon Review


I had the opportunity to see the latest addition to Martin Scorsese's filmography, Killers of the Flower moon on opening weekend and... it didn't disappoint. It was surprisingly the first film of his that I was able to see open in theaters...which seems crazy. But if you look at his recent films, The Wolf of Wall Street was essentially his last big premiere and I was only 15... As Scorsese hits 80 years old there may not be many more of these to come. Along with his age, comes a certain doubt that his movies will start to deteriorate. This doubt is largely sourced from Quentin Tarantino's hypothesis that filmmakers don't get better with age...which there is a case for and is arguably true to a certain extent. So you could say I was hesitantly excited for this premiere.

A Heavy Story of Exploitation

Killers of the Flower Moon is a very, very heavy story. The weight of it all caught me off-guard. For those who read the novel or brushed up on the history of the Osage, I'm sure you were more prepared than me. Still, the evil that we see visualized throughout this story is shocking, jarring, and resonant.

Here's the reality, the Osage people were fighting a losing war. The chips were stacked against them and to be honest, their odds of beating a rising American capitalism (filled with corruption at the time) were astronomically low. It's a horrifically sad story because much of the Osage culture and way of life was severely and permanently disrupted by these evil acts. These acts of evil will eventually be judged by the Most High and we should be drawn to a place of compassion for the innocent nature of the Osage people.

Scorsese highlighted an interesting aspect of the story which was the wealth of the Osage people before the horrific acts began. They were wealthy! This was a history, that in my opinion and experience, hasn't been told to the American public, at least not widely. It was really cool to see the representation of a prosperous class of indigenous people. And this wealth was rightfully theirs. It was their land and they were collecting the benefits of it, it's as simple as that. But interestingly and ingeniously , Scorsese didn't paint this as a time of true prosperity for these people. The dramatic materialistic gain was like a slow poison, which was ultimately detrimental. This idea was pushed further by the literal slow poisoning of Molly and her family. We also saw signs of this Osage deterioration through Henry's character, Molly's "ex"-husband. He had become depressed and on the verge of suicide many times. He was an alcoholic and a gambler. All of the vices of the wealth (which these people had not known) were beginning to creep up over time.

Right in Scorsese's Wheelhouse

One of my first impressions as I embarked on this 3.5 hour epic was that this story couldn't be more perfect for Scorsese. Honestly, I wouldn't have wanted anyone else to tell this story for the big screens. Why? Because he's done this before. A period piece historical drama that captures the true story of a morally ambiguous/corrupted protagonist seeking wealth and digging themselves deep into a hole in the process. Sound familiar? It should. It's the Wolf of Wall Street. Which is funny because obviously Leonardo is that same man.

Missed Opportunities

Through the first hour, I was convinced that Scorsese hadn't lost an ounce of his kinetic energy that we've seen him draw upon with a number of powerful films. What comes to mind are Bringing out the Dead, Taxi Driver, and of course The Wolf of Wall Street. The tempo was quick, the dialogue witty, and we were transported into this off-kilter world. But this kineticism shifted as the story progressed. I felt that he started to drop the ball on some opportunities to take the characters deeper. Their motives felt shallow. While it might be true that their motives actually were that shallow, the outrageousness of it all seemed to take its toll by the time you reach hour 3. Without the brilliant and captivating performances from Leonardo, De Niro, and Lily Gladstone, I would be finding myself really struggling to make it to the finish line on this one.

Another lacking element was the spirituality of the Osage. While present in the story, I think there was room for more to help emphasize the contrasts between the Osage and the Americans. That contrast was still obvious but we just didn't see enough of the Osage culture in my opinion. It seems that Scorsese really took a third person stance which I understand is almost necessary for a period piece like this... but Martin, you're 80 now and a certified legend, you can genre bend a little bit more. This would help with character building and it would also keep audiences on their toes a bit more.

Ambiguous Morality

These characters, especially Ernest, I think were some of the most interesting that Scorsese has worked with yet. As they attain wealth through the exploitation of a native people group, they seem to be doing it from a place of compassion? This is really interesting. William "King" Hale seems to be a devout Catholic (or Christian) and can be seen praying for others and wishing them well in the presence of the Lord. While also remaining intent on building his own wealth at the expense of Osage lives. Are they really that thick? It becomes too unbelievable and not in a good way. 'King' says multiple times throughout the film: 'look, they're going to die at some point anyway...'. Some motives for killing others are more..."understandable" this one is just not. This returns us to the shallowness of our main characters, they want wealth and they justify killing people because well...that's life (and death).

Ernest isn't much better... While 'King' acted as the puppet master for the whole exploitation, Ernest just signed on without hesitation. Somehow he buys into this plan seamlessly, which in his defense, marrying into money isn't the most nefarious thing to do and it's definitely not unheard of. But in his case, he had been robbing the Osage people and setting up his own criminal operation aside from 'King's' plan. So obviously, there was a ridiculous moral implication at the beginning of his relationship with Molly. Furthermore, as the situation spiraled out of control from within Molly and Ernest's house, Molly never thought to question her husband? I would think this speaks to her loyalty, but then we learn she had another husband who she had split up with but whom she never told Ernest about... Now this doesn't negate her as a loyal person, but it also doesn't give her a strong case. I'm simply trying to give Molly the benefit of the doubt for her undying loyalty and upstanding moral character as she watched her life literally move to the brink. It's beyond me how Molly stayed in her situation until the point that she did... And in the case of Ernest, was he really that dumb or was he genuinely evil? It might be a case of both, but this ambiguity that carries through the finale is frustrating to sit through.

Final Thoughts

This story is absolutely one worth telling. Despite the faults of the character's depth and definition, it's a story that audiences are ultimately compelled by. The truth that it highlights about our country's history and relationship with the Native Americans should be deeply affecting. In an age of thickening moral ambiguity I still applaud Scorsese for defining characters who are clearly good and clearly evil. Blurring the lines of morality does no one any good and that is becoming increasingly prevalent from visionary directors of today (Yorgos Lanthimos). I really do think there was potential for this to be a triumphant masterpiece by Scorsese but instead I think it falls in to his "good" category, which, for reference, would be an incredible feat for 99% of directors to every exist.

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