‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ review: Scorsese disappoints at Cannes

The sprawling “Killers of the Flower Moon,” like some Martin Scorsese epics, recounts a terrifying campaign of violence from the inside. Adapted from David Grann’s 2017 nonfiction book, the film revisits an oil-rich, increasingly blood-soaked stretch of 1920s Oklahoma—a land whose wealthy Osage Nation owners began dying under brutal and mysterious circumstances Are. The identity of the killers is unclear, at least not at first, though their motive is much the same: they aim to correct the balance in a world where their presumed racial and cultural inferiors have been given an unenviable position of influence. To that end, the Osage must be deprived of their wealth by any means necessary, including harassment and extortion, marriage and murder.

The film, which is out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday, is both like and unlike anything its director has ever done.

It finds Scorsese working again with two of his favorite actors, although never before have they appeared together: Robert De Niro plays William Hale, a powerful cattle rancher in Fairfax, Okla. , and Leonardo DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhardt’s estranged, if somewhat estranged, nephew. ,

The larger arena in which these two men and many others operate is, on one level, a familiar Scorseseian jumble of work and family, money and violence. And yet in its balance of Wild West expanses and intimate domestic spaces, and its focus on indigenous men and women whose fortunes turn to ill health, this world is also, for Scorsese, a fascinating new scene, dramatic and political. There is a limit.

In the background of all the dense, action-packed action, you can hear echoes of “Goodfellas” and “The Irishman,” “Gangs of New York” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” among other indelible American epics of organized crime and tribalism. Are. violence. But you’ll also hear – in the anguished screams and silences of an Osage woman named Mollie Burkhart (a wonderful Lily Gladstone), Ernest’s wife – the story of this nation’s original sin, here to a degree monstrous and horrifying that even Scorsese poses as a chronicler of experiential human evil.

A man sitting in a car puts his hand on the hand of a man standing next to him.

Robert De Niro as a powerful cattle rancher and Leonardo DiCaprio as his nephew in “Killer of the Flower Moon”.

(Melinda Sue Gordon / Apple)

And at this juncture a pause is perhaps worth taking.

Since even before filming was completed, the anticipation surrounding “Colors of the Flower Moon” has been particularly feverish. That’s partly because every new Scorsese film is an event, for better or worse, and partly because its arrival will, for some cinephiles, be the best sign that movies, as we’ve seen since at least March 2020 The ones we knew and loved before are well and truly back.

Before it begins streaming on Apple TV+, “Killers” will receive an October theatrical release through Paramount Pictures, providing a test of what a filmmaker of Scorsese’s non-industrial leanings and epic ambitions can do. How big is the audience for (His previous film, 2019’s “The Irishman,” was distributed by Netflix.)

The film’s unveiling at Cannes marks a meaningful return to form for a filmmaker who nearly 50 years ago won the Palme d’Or for “Taxi Driver” (1976) and whose commitment to world cinema is faithfully matched by the festival. Can be called. But Cannes can also be difficult to navigate, which may explain the apparent caution at the film’s premiere: it received only one public gala screening at the festival and was thrown out of competition, although the festival’s director, Thierry Frémaux, Mentioned in interviews that he invited Scorsese’s film to compete.

At a time when the state of cinema looks at once promising and uncertain as ever, a gamble as risky as Scorsese’s – and he is, as many of us have noted, a filmmaker who thrives on risk – Delves into concerns about an acclaimed white filmmaker taking a story of Indigenous suffering, as well as more general concerns about reviews, publicity, and awards season.

My own initial thoughts on “Colors of the Flower Moon,” which I look forward to revisiting closer to release, will attempt to avoid feeding into either of those pitfalls. (It will also try to avoid giving away too many plot details, although the history can’t really be spoiled, read with caution.)

Any reasonable assessment of the film must begin with an appreciation of Grann’s painstakingly researched book, an intricately layered detective story that Scorsese and his co-writer Eric Roth try and at times struggle to condense. . One of his clever tactics is to begin the story as an odd couple courtship, as Ernest, a war veteran, finds himself infatuated with the wealthy, wary Mollie.

“He wants our money,” one of his relatives warned him. Mollie doesn’t deny it, but she also can’t deny that Ernest, though not the flashiest lover, is handsome and charming and seems to care for her in a really strange way. An opening shot of the two future husband and wife sitting side by side at a table, quietly enjoying each other’s company, seems to have placed them on an equal and relatable level.

A man takes a woman by the hand and leads her out of a car.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone in ‘Killer of the Flower Moon’.

(Melinda Sue Gordon / Apple)

It is a beautiful image and also a lie. Years pass, children are born and the murders begin. Mollie’s sister Anna (Kara Jade Myers) is found shot dead near a river; Their mother, Lizzie (Tantu Cardinal), dies of a “vain illness”, the same one that will soon afflict Mollie. The deaths of these and many other Osage men and women in the surrounding community are locked in a somber, dismal narrative; Few of them, we learn, resulted in any police action or investigation.

Hale, played with utmost authorial restraint by De Niro, looms over the proceedings like a shadow; Ernest, like some other flop-sweat cases DiCaprio has played for Scorsese, becomes wracked with guilt and self-loathing. Corruption and greed abound; Bombs explode and bombs are dropped. The answers are few and far between.

The truth slowly comes out – and a kind of justice is achieved – only thanks to the dogged work of Tom White (an uncredited Jesse Plemons), an off-screen J. A brilliant federal investigator hired by Edgar Hoover to get to the bottom of the Osage murders.

Grann’s book doubles thrillingly as an early history of the FBI, and White emerges as its most compelling character. Disappointingly, his roles and those of his fellow spies, many of whom have to work undercover, are comparatively small on screen. It’s an understandable narrative strategy in a film that wants to avoid the obvious, triumphant conventions of detective procedurals and that wants to be a serious indictment of genocidal capitalism. But it becomes harder and harder to do so as the emotional and psychological weight of the story shifts disproportionately to Ernest, and in such a way that DiCaprio’s growing pains can’t quite shoulder the permanence of a performance.

This is hardly the first time Scorsese has boldly put a man’s tormented soul front and center; His two most recent films, the starkly different “Silence” (2016) and “The Irishman” (2019), managed this with particular brilliance. But the triple-threat combo of Scorsese, DiCaprio, and De Niro, ostensibly the film’s main selling point, also feels like its central distraction.

Gladstone’s performance, a heart-wrenching mix of authority, confusion and dread, goes a long way toward keeping this dynamic under control, as Ernest and Molly’s marriage becomes its own gruesome metaphor for Manifest Destiny’s cruelty. It becomes She’s key to the film’s more resonant, Osage-centric moments, which are few visual or descriptive examples in the director’s filmography.

Sometimes you wish cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto would linger longer on open prairie landscapes or on the vibrant, quotidian hustle and bustle of Fairfax’s streets.

At key moments, Scorsese and his co-writer, Roth, would enact an Osage wedding, burial or other ceremonial tradition, pausing to take in faces in the crowd and the intricate patterns on their garments. Or they will take us to a meeting where tribal elders will speak out against the violence against them.

The impact of his story may ultimately be more subdued than it should have been, but in these isolated moments you can hear his voice, his fury and his despair, loud and clear.

Leave a Comment