KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON
THREE STARS A plan is hatched to divert oil profits to opportunists. Bullets fly.
PERIOD DRAMA US English #KILLERSOFTHEFLOWERMOON
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro
Martin Scorcese has always been a polarising force. Director of landmark films like TAXI DRIVER and CASINO, he’s known for sharp and violent storytelling. He’s also known for taking his sweet time to get to the end credits. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, a sprawling epic about race relations in America’s oil rush of the 1920s is, at 206minutes, all these things: big, bold, visionary and very, very long.
In Oklahoma, ranch owner William ‘King’ Hale (Robert De Niro) employs his greedy, gullible nephew Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) as a driver. King is a well liked by the local Osage nation who own most of the oil rights - at one point they were the richest people per capita in the world - and acts as a powerbroker between them and other townsfolk. There are ulterior motives of course.
The Osage live much shorter lives than their white neighbours (disease, alcoholism, guns). Thus if King can get his son and nephew married into the right families - those with wealth and few men - when his boys inevitably outlive their wives, inheritance will come flooding back to his family. And if it takes a couple of accidents to make that happen faster, so be it. Thus is framed a rich morality tale about ethics, racism and violence in America’s new wild-west.
Once Ernest is placed as a driver for oil-rights owner Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), love flows and they’re soon married. Aided by the blindness of corrupt officials, King wastes no time chipping away at Mollie’s family with their money diverting his way. Yet these well laid plans begin to unravel once Mollie, unaware of her husband’s duplicitous position yet distraught by the devastation brought to her community, appeals directly to Washington for help. The subsequent arrival of FBI agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons) changes everything.
Working from an intelligent and densely layered script by Eric Roth (FORREST GUMP, MUNICH), Scorcese has fashioned an intriguing film that almost justifies its run time; there’s a lot of story to unpack. Yet within those three hours plus there’s also a lot of repetition, languid reflection and bloated scenes that just beg for someone, anyone, to yell ‘cut’. You could jettison nearly the entire middle third and the film would not be much poorer. Rather than being lost in the narrative, you’re forced back to the same word time and again: indulgent.
And that despite the best efforts of a robust cast (De Niro and DiCaprio eat this stuff for breakfast, Gladstone is mesmerising), clean-cut production that works hard to keep focus on the story (a pleasing contrast to a gimmick-fest like WOLF OF WALL STREET), plus a stirring score by the late Robbie Robertson (he of The Band).
While KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is a compelling movie, there’s also the certainty that something approaching a masterpiece dwells inside if only its director had been willing to let go and tighten up. A lot.