Epic in scale, storytelling and emotion, Martin Scorsese's KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is another incredible film from one of our best American directors.
At just shy of three and a half hours long, the film feels much shorter as you're pulled into the land of the Osage tribe in 1920's Oklahoma.
The Osage have been relocated several times and have now landed on the most oil rich land in America.
Scorsese uses newsreels to show the Osage people enjoying their wealth, with the highest per capita wealth in America.
The black gold spewing from the ground also brings greed, murder and corruption on every train.
Leonardo DiCaprio is very UN-Leo like as returning war soldier and line cook Ernest Burkhart. Dim by any measure, sporting a very nasty set of unclean teeth and a constant look of befuddlement, Ernest falls under the wing of his wealthy Uncle William "King" Hale, played by Robert De Niro. King Hale has ingratiated himself into every part of the Osage people, highly respected as an advisor and business partner helping the tribe assimilate with their incredible wealth.
But Hale is a corrupt, murdering crime boss bent on gaining the rights to every rig.
De Niro is flawless as Hale, speaking platitudes to the Osage in their language one minute and ordering a murder the next. It's a great performance in a career full of them.
DiCaprio's Ernest is a pawn who's too dumb to even know he's being moved around the board by his Uncle. Driving for Hale's private taxi service, Ernest meets Mollie, a respected and outspoken woman of the Osage. She observes Ernest as he drives, shaking her head at his arrogance and goofy demeanor. He's clearly a low life that loves cash and she's somewhat charmed by the fact that he makes zero effort to hide it.
Newcomer Lily Gladstone is absolutely terrific as Mollie. She's funny, stoic and smart. Gladstone conveys so much in silence. As her world turns upside down through the film, she stands toe-to-toe with DeCaprio and De Niro and never flinches. It's an impressive performance and I would bet she wins the Best Actress Oscar next Spring.
Scorsese (Goodfellas, Casino, Cape Fear) and Eric Roth (Dune, Munich, A Star is Born) have crafted a screenplay that honors the source material but vastly improves upon it. The book focused on the creation of the FBI as a new agency and the murders among the Osage people as the first case they ever tackled. The film shifts all the light to the Osage, and we become more fully invested in their plight.
The FBI does arrive about two hours into the film, and no one knows who in the hell they are. Jesse Plemons (Fargo Season 2, The Irishman) is excellent as Tom White, one of the first FBI agents in history.
The last 90 minutes accelerates quickly as the mystery of the many, many deaths are investigated and the wolves start turning on each other.
John Lithgow (The World According to Garp, Dexter) is perfect as the US Prosecutor bringing the case to trial.
William Belleau is fantastic as Osage leader Henry Roan. Anytime he was on screen, he owned every inch of it, as does Yancy Red Corn as Tribal Chief Bonnicastle.
In the massive cast, there's not one misstep, save the usually likeable Brendan Fraser, who seems to have stumbled in from a live-action Foghorn Leghorn movie. He's incredibly off-putting in a thankfully small role as Hale's lawyer.
The film moves quickly and to me, flowed much better than Scorsese's last very long film, "The Irishman", which was great, but made me glance at my watch occasionally to check my progress.
The special effects, photography and production design that bring the 1920's reservation and small town to life are all stunning. Apple gave Scorsese a $200 million budget and I never had to wonder where it went.
Robbie Robertson's music score is excellent, reminding me of 70's Elmer Bernstein scores when it isn't carving out a very specific niche of its own.
The film has a lot to say about the Osage people, their treatment in history and the outside greed that nearly destroyed them. By portraying all the horrible deeds put upon them as acts upon people we grow to care about in the story, it personalizes the terror and makes you stand back and consider history and our place in it.
Like Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" and Ana DuVernay's brilliant film "Selma", KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON unwraps lives that should impact the way we look at the world.
In a lifetime of epic films, this stands near the top of Scorsese's legacy as one of his finest works. I'd be surprised if he wasn't on the podium next to Gladstone come Oscar time, wielding a Best Director statue. Of course, he might have to wrestle it away from a deserving Greta Gerwig for the massive global hit, "Barbie" and Christopher Nolan for his superb work on "Oppenheimer".
Powerful, smart and important, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON earns an A+.