From the gritty, visionary Taxi Driver to Oscar-winning crime drama The Departed, Martin Scorsese is a director for the ages. Now aged 80, his films are still celebrated by critics and the public alike. With a $200m budget, Killers of the Flower Moon reunites Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro for an immersive, three-and-a-half hour Western, based on historical fact and marrying low-key drama with an epic feel.
Ernest (DiCaprio) returns to Osage County, Oklahoma after serving in the First World War and is welcomed by his uncle, William (De Niro). William is a pillar of the community and appears like family to the Osage Nation, the Native American people who own the land and who have become rich due to the discovery of oil there. Ernest and William hatch a plan to inherit the money through Ernest marrying Osage woman Mollie (Lily Gladstone). Soon, the scheme takes a murderous turn, and the two find themselves in way too deep.
The first 45 minutes of the film play, for the most part, like a low-key character-based drama, and the performances of all three leads draw you in. Gladstone more than holds her own, with Mollie as the most likeable character. It’s refreshing to see a male-centred movie in which the protagonists act so foolishly, especially Ernest. His actions can become exasperating at times, but DiCaprio plays him with such depth and ability that you can’t wait to see what happens next.
Scorsese has said he was influenced by horror director Ari Aster in letting some scenes breathe; one reason why the running time of Killers of the Flower Moon is so long. This lends the picture an unusual, at times serene, feel. The joint screenwriter of the piece, Eric Roth, is a master of the adapted screenplay, and must have been instrumental in adapting David Grann’s book of the same name. Scorsese uses the high budget to immerse the viewer in this time and place, with the set design being immaculate. He also still has the ability to send a shiver up your spine. One scene, where a fire breaks out, is scored to the eerie, timeless blues song ‘Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground’ and is mesmerising in its cinematic potency.
Though the running time is a little too long, Killers of the Flower Moon is a gripping experience that rewards a patient and open-minded viewer.
Killers of the Flower Moon is out now