Who says westerns are dead? Certainly not Martin Scorsese when he co-wrote the screenplay for Killers of the Flower Moon with Eric Roth. Both Scorsese and Roth came to this project with amazing accolades. Scorsese, of course, is known for directing Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and Raging Bull. And Roth is known for adapting epic books into equally epic screenplays, such as Dune (2021), Forrest Gump, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The cast for Killers of the Flower Moon is just as impressive, with the talents of Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic), Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver), Lily Gladstone (First Cow), Jesse Plemons (The Irishman), Tantoo Cardinal (Wind River), John Lithgow (The World According to Garp), and Brendan Fraser (The Whale).
The story is set in Oklahoma after the oil boom which made the Osage Native American tribe rich. Soon white interlopers weasel their way into their lives to manipulate, extort, and murder rich Osage men and women. The film centers on Ernest Burkhart who comes back from the war to work for William King Hale, his rich uncle. Ernest falls for and marries a beautiful Osage woman named Mollie. But soon their family and friends start to drop dead. Do not be mistaken, this isn’t a mystery or a who-dun-it. Killers of the Flower Moon is a drama and as such, the audience is compelled by the characters instead of trying to think one step ahead of the plot.
In general, the cast does a wonderful job. However, some of the acting feels a little stilted, especially during the courtroom scenes. DiCaprio gives a great performance as Ernest, but it definitely feels as though viewers are watching an actor play a role, instead of watching a character on the screen. Gladstone does an amazing job. Her subtle performance as Mollie is powerful and heartbreaking. Mollie is nuanced. She is aloof and stoic but also vulnerable and sensitive.
The scenes and dialogue often feel as though they were written for two different movies: sometimes slow and melodic and other times quick and snappy. Unfortunately, there isn’t a balance between the two. This leads to the biggest flaw of the movie: the pacing.
The pacing is slow, which is a difficult weakness to ignore when the film has a run time of 206 minutes. Most of the scenes feel as though they run too long, like hour-long meetings that could have just as easily been emails. While some lingering shots can feel atmospheric and add to the immersion of the audience, too many of those scenes and the audience will get squirmy. The first half of the movie is engrossing. Viewers are enthralled as they watch their favorite characters die or land behind bars. This enthusiasm is then stopped in its tracks at the last hour, which feels lacking in tension.
The addition and delivery of the epilogue as a radio play is a unique and interesting take. But even in this one scene, the message still rings true. The story is one about the Osage, but the entire radio play cast is white and mostly male. The decision to have the Osage response (within the epilogue) performed by a white voice actor is true to the time and is jarring to see and hear. This was a common occurrence in most films back in the early 20th century. As the years have gone on, whitewashing in the entertainment industry has slowly been addressed.
The message is important and needs to be told but while the setting is beautiful, Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t necessarily a mandatory watch in theaters. Moviegoers can get the same impact while sitting comfortably on their couch (with the ability to pause for bathroom breaks).