Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) – Film review by Andrea Carnevali

Killers of the Flower Moon  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When oil is discovered in 1920s Oklahoma under Osage Nation land, the Osage people are murdered one by one – until the FBI steps in to unravel the mystery. Out in cinemas now.

Based on a true story and adapted from a book of the same name by David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon, delves into a chilling chapter of American history, in early 20th-century Oklahoma, exploring a series of murders that occurred among the Osage community of Native Americans, who found themselves wealthy almost from one day to the next, for being the land owner of lands rich with oil.

I’ll come out straight: my relationship with Scorsese’s films is a tricky one. As a film geek, I should love the guy, and to a degree I do, however I have never really fallen in love with any of his films. I do recognise the skills and the craft behind it, and I certainly commend his knowledge and love for film making and cinema itself (his work on preservation of classics is also astounding), but his gritty style and his (mostly violent) sensibilities never sit too well with my Spielbergian take on life.

Having said that, going through his filmography, from Taxi Driver to Goodfellas all the way through After Hours, The King of Comedy (two relatively minor titles which might be among my favourite of his), it’s impossible not to recognise a master at work. And now at 81, Martin Scorsese doesn’t look like he wants to slow down. And why should he, when the result is such a gripping and poignant film, like this latest opus of his?

I call it “opus” because Killer of the Flower Moon comes with a

massive running time of 3 hours and 26 minutes. I hope this review makes you a little less scared of the idea of sitting down in a dark room for 206 minutes (plus trailer and all the rest).

If I have to be honest, stepping into it, it felt like a daunting task for me too. I had to sneak my lunch into cinema and make sure I didn’t drink too much, because I knew I didn’t want to a miss beat.

I actually was surprised at how fast it all went by. The film never felt indulgent or padded and its seemingly slow or meandering pace at the start only serves to enhance the connection to the characters and make it all more powerful as the film unravels.

Some critics at the Venice Film Festival, where this was premiered in September, have said the grand story would have suited a mini-series better than an actual movie, and that in fact additional screen time and a backstory for certain individuals could have enhanced the overall emotional impact and investment.

While I agree with some of this sentiment, I do believe this film really gains something by being watched on a big screen, in a dark room, with no interruptions and no distractions: the injustices portrayed on screen are too great to be reduced on a TV screen (however big your telly is) and so is the scope and feel of some of the storytelling with its estimated $200,000,000 budget.

Martin Scorsese skilfully brings this historical period to life, shedding light on the injustices faced by the Osage people while at the same time weaving a captivating murder mystery.

His signature style shines through in his meticulous attention to detail (remember The Age of Innocence?) and the atmospheric elements throughout. From the hauntingly beautiful landscapes and its breathtaking cinematography, to the dimly lit interiors, every shot is masterfully composed. All of which enhance the suspense, the sadness and a true sense of unease which permeates the whole film.

Needless to say, the performances in the film are all Oscar-worthy. Leonardo DiCaprio, unsurprisingly, delivers another stellar masterclass. He may have started losing some of his good looks (which in a way suited his character), but his acting skills have hardly diminished since his magnificent turn in The Basketball diaries and the fantastic What’s eating Gilbert Grape? now more than 30 years ago.

Here his character is undeniably complex, blurring the lines between empathy and repulsion, leaving us questioning our emotions towards him.

Are we meant to sympathise with him or is he an absolute monster? This duality adds depth and intrigue to the film’s narrative, creating a palpable tension throughout.

Robert De Niro surprises with a restrained and nuanced portrayal, avoiding that tendency to chew the scenery that we’ve seen in recent years.

However, the true revelation is Lily Gladstone. She is the heart and soul of the film. Her honest and truthful portrayal adds a level of authenticity to the tragedy depicted in the film. Her eyes speak the volume of the tragedy her character suffers through and it’s hard not to see her getting all the way to the Oscars and possibly even winning.

Killers of the Flower Moon is not without flaws: given the enormous length, it’s surprising how the setup of the historical events (and sociopolitical dynamics around the Osage community) could be so very basic. At times the film seems a little bit too interested in the intricacies of the plot itself.

Having said that, this is undeniably a very solid film that will hold a significant place in Scorsese’s filmography. A testament to his skill as a director and storyteller. By the end, it’s very clear where his heart lays. His cameo right at the end serve as a personal statement reflecting on the injustice of this sad chapter of American history.

For those willing to embark on a compelling journey through this dark chapter of history, this film offers a thought-provoking and immersive experience that deserves to be witnessed on the big screen.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

Killers of the Flower Moon is out in cinemas across the country.