“Killers of the Flower Moon” may not be a traditional gangster picture, but it’s completely in tune with the stories of corrupt, violent men that Scorsese, one of the great American directors, has explored for a half-century. And yet there’s also a sense of age in Scorsese’s work here, the feeling that he’s using this horrifying true story to interrogate how we got to where we are a hundred years later. How did we allow blood to fertilize the soil of this country? Scorsese and Roth took a book that’s essentially about the formation of the F.B.I. by way of the investigation into the Osage murders and shifted the storytelling to a more personal perspective for both Mollie and Ernest. Through their story, the film doesn’t just present injustice but reveals how intrinsic it was to the formation of wealth and inequity in this country. It hums with commentary on how this nonchalant violence against people deemed lesser pervaded a century of horror. The references to the Tulsa Massacre and the KKK aren’t incidental here. It’s all part of the big picture—one of people who subjugate because it’s so easy for them to do so.
Of course, Scorsese visions don’t work without his team of collaborators, and he’s brought in some of the best to tell this tale. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is sweeping when it needs to capture the vast territory of the Osage Nation but can also be intense with a sweaty close-up. Robbie Robertson’s thrumming score is practically a character, giving the film a heartbeat that adds tension to its notable runtime. This story wouldn’t have nearly the same momentum with a traditional, classical score. Finally, Thelma Schoonmaker is as responsible for Scorsese’s sense of rhythm as director, and “Killers of the Flower Moon” is one of her most notable accomplishments. Some will crack jokes about the editing given the runtime of Scorsese’s longest film but think of the scope of this multi-year saga and how deftly Schoonmaker helps pace the final piece, pushing us forward through our nation’s violent history without ever losing the thread of this complex saga.
As for performance, there’s inherent power to seeing Scorsese’s two muses act opposite each other for the first time since “This Boy’s Life” as De Niro and DiCaprio fuel each other’s performances with what’s basically another tale of an abusive father. But Gladstone will be the revelation for most people. The standout of “Certain Women” knows exactly how to play this role, never leaning into melodrama and always grounding her character in the truth of the moment instead of playing a stand-in for all Indigenous victims. There are times when it feels like “Killers of the Flower Moon” could spin out into a broad political statement, but the performances, especially Gladstone’s, keep the film in the truth of character. The whole ensemble understands this element, playing the reality of the situation instead of treating it like a history lesson. Mollie Burkhardt didn’t know her saga would help found the FBI or bring light to injustice a century later. She just wanted to survive and love like so many who were robbed of those basic human rights.
In the end, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is like a puzzle—each creative piece does its part to form the complete picture. When it’s put together, it’s depressingly easy to see the wolves. The question now is, what do we do when we find them?
In theaters on October 20th and on Apple TV+ at a later date.