Watching a new film by Martin Scorsese brings me immense joy. The same can be said for other lovers of cinema and devoted fans of old Marty. Watching a new Scorsese film is always an exciting event. When his last picture, “The Irishman,“ came out on Netflix in 2019, I was more eager to watch that in the comfort of my own home rather than go and see “Avengers: Endgame” in a crowded and noisy movie theater.
Despite his old age, Scorsese is still one of the best filmmakers working today. He is the best director to emerge from the 70s and continues to make quality films even to this day. His friends Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola are second and third, respectively.
In the last fifteen years, Scorsese has directed and released five films, all of which received critical acclaim. Those films include “Shutter Island” (2010), “Hugo” (2011), “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), “Silence” (2016) and, as already stated before, “The Irishman.”
His newest release, “Killers of the Flower Moon” (2023), is another addition to Scorsese’s magnificent track record. There is a lot that can be said about the film. In fact, there is so much that can be said that I could match the film’s long runtime with how much I can write on paper. “Killers of the Flower Moon” is like a good buffet. You do not know where to start and decide which part is your favorite.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” tells the horrific true story of the murders of numerous members of the Osage Nation led by William King Hale in 1920s Oklahoma. The reason why Hale ordered the murders of so many Osage members was to gain control of their headrights and oil wealth. He even commanded his own nephew, Ernest Burkhart, to play a special part in his plan by marrying into a rich Osage family and then help kill off each and every one of them.
If I had to start somewhere, it has to be the amazing performances from the three main leads. Those include Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart, Robert De Niro as William King Hale and Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart. DiCaprio is the actor who gets most of the screen time, but De Niro and Gladstone have their fair share of minutes as well.
One common criticism of DiCaprio is that he often plays characters that tend to do the same things, such as yelling a lot. That cannot be said for this film. He is jaw-dropping as Ernest Burkhart. In all honesty, this may be one of his best performances in his career. You can tell that DiCaprio took the time to prepare as Ernest Burkhart and made sure he didn’t miss any of the details that made up the real Ernest.
Another aspect about DiCaprio’s performance as Ernest Burkhart is that it is one of the most interesting and complex characters in DiCaprio’s entire tenure as a professional actor. Being related to a truly evil man that is Hale, Ernest Burkhart is constantly in conflict between listening to his uncle and loving and caring for his wife Mollie Burkhart.
Hale orders Ernest Burkhart to keep poisoning Mollie Burkhart by contaminating her insulin to make her more ill as days go by. As you would expect, he is completely against this but still does it, as he respects his uncle and maybe even fears him a little bit. Heck, I would be afraid of the man too. There’s a point in the film where Ernest decides to start drinking some of the poison instead of giving it to Mollie.
This is sort of similar to Jake LaMotta taking punches from opponents during a match in the boxing ring in Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” (1980). A character pays for his sins by inflicting himself with the same pain he gives others.
Simply put, DiCaprio is just out of this world in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” There is no possible excuse the Academy could give if they do not put DiCaprio as one of the five candidates for the Best Actor category for the 2024 Academy Awards. It would be one of the biggest snubs in the last five years.
The actor out of the main three that I liked the most when they were on screen has to be De Niro. De Niro is one of the greatest actors of all time. We all know and understand this. De Niro has played better characters in other films, but his performance as Hale left me feeling uneasy. De Niro is not only sinister, but he is also manipulative and cunning in how he presents himself to the Osage people.
De Niro blew me away in this film. He plays a villain who isn’t reliant on yelling or being overly dramatic in his presentation. He plays a villain who will do literally anything to get what he wants – even if that means sacrificing his own blood, Ernest Burkhart. I am so glad that De Niro met Scorsese when they were both young kids. Together, they made one of the most legendary duos in cinematic history.
Last but not certainly least is Gladstone. She is just wonderful in this film. In fact, she is of the same caliber of actor that De Niro and DiCaprio are. She steals the show. For most of the film, she is bedridden due to suffering from an illness. Gladstone still manages to deliver an exquisite performance that is not only memorable but effective in how she presents herself.
Mollie Burkhart, both in real life and the one depicted in the film, suffered a tremendous amount of loss. Mollie loses her three sisters, her mother and one of her own children. Each time someone new dies in the family it is tragic to see on the big screen. Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart goes through so much emotional torture in this film that it becomes hard to watch for the audience.
However, by the end of the film she and the rest of the remaining Osage Nation get their justice. Scorsese couldn’t have picked a better actor to play Mollie Burkhart. The audience was in awe whenever Gladstone was on screen. I could not look away when she was on screen. Gladstone commanded the audience’s attention.
Another aspect of the film that I admired Scorsese for doing is the usage of actors and actresses that weren’t in anyways famous or A-list celebrities. Aside from Jesse Plemons as Agent Tom White and Brendan Fraser as W.S. Hamilton, the rest of the cast is unrecognizable. This is a positive, as it feels more like a real story about real events that took place in American and Osage history.
It also gives these actors and actresses opportunities to expand their careers after working with one the greatest living directors of all time and working on one of the best films of 2023.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” was clearly a passion project for Scorsese. It shows not only in the production, set design, costume design and historical accuracy, but also in the representation of the Osage Nation and their culture and traditions.
My personal favorite example of this would have to be Osage women seeing visions of owls. They interpret this as either an omen of sickness for themselves or a spirit of the dead. It’s interesting and something we have not seen before in a Scorsese film.
One thing about the film that moviegoers will complain about is the runtime. “Killers of the Flower Moon” is 3 hours and 26 minutes long, making it just three minutes shorter than Scorsese’s previous film, “The Irishman.”
I can definitely understand how an average person may feel like this is a bit too much, but I didn’t have an issue with it. If this film were six hours long I would watch from start to finish without getting out of my seat. That’s how addicting a Martin Scorsese film is.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” is my favorite film of 2023 at the moment. It does so much in nearly three and a half hours that it deserves many more rewatches and further discussion. I am unsure where most Scorsese fans will place it on their all-time favorite Scorsese films. It’s not one of his five best, but it definitely is a contender to take nine or 10.
For whoever reads this article, please go and watch this film whenever it is most convenient for you. It’s a new film from Martin Scorsese. What else is there to say?