Killers of the Flower Moon is a historical true crime drama directed by legendary director Martin Scorsese. Those familiar with Scorsese's work know he's a huge fan of period settings, and while I don't know precisely how accurate it is to period, or to David Gann's novel, I'd say this movie took full advantage of the time and place in which it's set. It's clear to me that Scorsese and his crew put a good deal of passion and dedication into this film, and it's reflected in nearly every aspect of the production. The story, the characters, the acting, the cinematography, the sets, and the music make Killers of the Flower Moon a modern classic.
Scorsese sets the film in 1921. World War I veteran Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) moves in with his wealthy uncle, William "King" Hale (Robert De Niro), who's living on the land of the Osage nation in Oklahoma. King tells Ernest about his involvement with Lizzie Q (Tantoo Cardinal), a native woman with a claim to a massive oil fortune, and Ernest subsequently marries Lizzie's daughter, Molly (Lily Gladstone). Out of sheer greed and desire to control a share of the Osage nation's oil profits, King and Ernest hatch a plan to kill all of Molly's sisters so that Ernest's family will be the sole inheritor of Lizzie's fortune.
It's at this point that the movie falls into a tangled web of characters and events that can be hard to track at times, but somehow never ends up becoming boring or repetitive by any means. It's easy to lose interest in the complicated series of events being laid out, but the film's actors deliver such captivating performances that you eventually commit. DiCaprio absolutely steps up to the challenge as Ernest. He gives his character the kind of depth and expression that only an actor of his quality could. His synergy with De Niro and Gladstone is titillating. I would absolutely love to see DiCaprio win an Oscar for Best Actor or Gladstone win one for Best Actress. At the very least, they both deserve nominations. (Full disclosure: I'm rooting for Cillian Murphy and Margot Robbie to win Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively because Barbenheimer!)
Of course, not all the credit can go to the lead actors. Every supporting actor in this movie gives an absolute scene-stealing performance. Jesse Plemons’ performance as a curious FBI agent is enthralling. While his performance may not quite reach the same emotional depth as our lead trio, his inextinguishable charm and charisma more than make up for his lack of dramatic range. The bit players that portray tribal council members and the actresses that play Molly’s sisters stand out as well. But none of the peripheral players in this film stand out quite as much as Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow. In a series of dry, arduous court scenes that are arguably far too long, Fraser and Lithgow inject a vitality that is absolutely necessary, even with De Niro and DiCaprio doing the heaving lifting.
And despite my effusive praise, the characters and the story are only a small part of what make this film such a success. On the technical side, the film is a masterpiece in terms of cinematography. It perfectly combines modern cinematography with the filmmaking techniques of the 1920s to create one of the most unique visuals styles in recent history. The costumes, props, and sets offer an eclectic mixture of the Roaring Twenties and Cowboys and Indians. It’s aesthetic makes it one of the most visually pleasing movies I’ve ever seen. The film’s score, by composer Robbie Robertson, adds a nice cherry on top by using a perfect fusion of indigenous drums and flutes with country/western instruments. It all creates an audibly pleasing, folksy country sound that perfectly fits the tone and setting of the movie.
Overall, Killers of the Flower Moon is absolutely one of the best pictures to be released on American movie screens in the past three or so years. And while I hesitate to classify it as a cinematic masterpiece, I do believe it is an example of exceptional filmmaking.
Killers of the Flower Moon is currently playing in theatres.