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Martin Scorsese’s ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’ Wants To Be Epic But Just Feels Long


Even though the terms “long” and “epic” are commonly used interchangeably in the film industry, they have different meanings. With “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Martin Scorsese achieves the former but falls short of the latter. This is his second straight three-and-a-half-hour film based on a true event and supported by a prestige-hungry streaming service.

In this instance, it’s Apple TV+ since Netflix allowed the seasoned filmmaker to have creative freedom when editing “The Irishman.” The end product offers a sharp, even depressing, look at the wanton killing of Native Americans to get their oil money a century ago, while local officials turned a blind eye. Its shortcomings are similar to the result’s less obvious positives.

With a deep commitment to historical and cultural authenticity, Scorsese has enlisted the help of both old and new friends. Robert De Niro, with whom he has collaborated for decades, leads him in what appears to be a farewell dance that reveals the violent past of America.

“Flower Moon” is also Scorsese’s sixth full-length picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio, who, in part because of his character’s limitations, feels like the weak link in terms of providing the film the emotional weight or depth that would be appropriate for its size and scope.

Lily Gladstone’s portrayal of Mollie Kyle, an Osage lady whose family is among the heirs to those oil riches and who paid an almost unfathomable price to become the wealthiest people on Earth per capita, is the real star in that regard. A terrific, organic performance is hampered by the character’s holes as the writing leans further in Ernest’s direction.

The town’s most powerful man, Bill Hale (De Niro), has set his sights on controlling those oil rights despite posing as friends with the Osage Nation. He sees Ernest Burkhart, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, as another way to accomplish this goal.

Ernest, having just returned from World War I, is ready to start a new life in Oklahoma. He believes that marrying an Osage woman will provide him the fastest route to riches, a dynamic that both parties are well aware of. However, Mollie, who is sober, for some reason finds it impossible to resist Ernest, who starts by showing her around in his cab and then gradually starts courting her.

The straightforward Ernest actually falls in love with her, complicating the dire situation at hand, even as he takes part in his uncle’s increasingly callous plot to kill anyone who could stand in his way of all that money.

The film, directed by Scorsese, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Roth to adapt David Grann’s book, takes its sweet time narrating this cascading sequence of events, which will be remembered by many as a pivotal moment in US history. A noteworthy context-setting reference is the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, which speaks to the violence inflicted upon people of color a century ago with little fear of retribution or retaliation.

Almost two thirds of the way through the movie, the prospect of that materializes when an agent played by Jesse Plemons and the fledgling FBI (who identify themselves as the Bureau of Investigation) pay them a visit. At that point, the story takes a helpful turn, making one wish they had introduced him earlier.

Despite having directed many excellent films, Scorsese’s streaming phase has produced better-than-average films, maybe because the notoriety of the filmmaker and the people he works with sometimes overshadows the final result.

Notably, “Killers of the Flower Moon” will be released on a large scale, including performances on hundreds of Imax screens. Its strengths as a gorgeous period drama don’t necessitate the format, but they do fuel a sense of bigness, which was undoubtedly the intention, much like another heavy and lengthy picture, “Oppenheimer.”

Although “Oppenheimer” showed that audiences might endure such an event, it still seems unusual. In any case, Scorsese has produced a film that delves into a troubled past and emerges with less bang for its buck.

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