Monday, October 30, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon: Martin Scorsese’s Hobbled Epic

Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon.

Killers of the Flower Moon is great around the edges. Martin Scorsese’s movie, adapted from David Grann’s jaw-dropping 2017 account of the serial murders of Osage Indians in Oklahoma in the 1920s that enabled white men to secure their “headrights” – the legacy, shared equally among the community, of land rich in oil – is three and a half hours long and cost $200 million, and God knows you can see the money on the screen. The film, shot by Rodrigo Prieto, with production design by Jack Fisk and costumes by Jacqueline West, looks magnificent. The period reconstructions are dazzling and capture a cross-hatched culture, rich in visual irony, where natives, professing a faith that mixes Catholicism with the religion of their ancestors, dress in a combination of traditional garb and the flamboyant style of wealthy white men while they tool around in chauffeured Pierce Arrow roadsters and fly private airplanes. The opening scenes are lively and exciting, a circus-like montage of oil strikes and auctions and raucous general celebration that spills out of barrooms and restaurants into the streets of Fairfax, the Osage reservation town that has grown out of the oil boom. This is some of Scorsese’s best filmmaking – visually dense, outré, darkly funny. We barely have a chance to process the omnipresence of white men who have intermarried with the Osage women before it all turns sinister. The natives are dying in staggering numbers, some the victims in unsolved murders, others expiring from suspicious illnesses.