Martin Scorsese unveiled “Killers of the Flower Moon” to glowing reviews Saturday at Cannes Film Festival, earning widespread praise for his sweeping American epic about greed and exploitation on the bloody plains of an Osage Nation reservation in 1920s Oklahoma.
Scorsese’s latest − starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Robert De Niro in well-regarded performances − is one of his most ambitious. The adaptation of David Grann’s nonfiction bestseller stretches nearly three and a half hours and cost Apple $200 million to make.
The film, which is expected to open Oct. 6 in theaters, has received 96% “fresh” reviews on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. It drew a lengthy standing ovation and repeated cheers for Scorsese, 80, premiering his first film at Cannes since 1985’s “After Hours.”
“We shot this a couple of years ago in Oklahoma. It’s taken its time to come around but Apple did so great by us,” said Scorsese, addressing the crowd after the screening. “There was lots of grass. I’m a New Yorker.”
The red carpet drew a wide spectrum of stars, including Cate Blanchett, Salma Hayek, Paul Dano and Isabelle Huppert.
Scorsese centers his story on Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio, in his seventh collaboration with Scorsese), a World War I veteran who falls for a woman named Mollie (Gladstone), the member of a wealthy Osage family.
Since finding oil reserves on their land, the Osage are the richest people per capita in the country. But that wealth is closely controlled by appointed white guardians. A series of murders prompts increased panic among the Osage, who are preyed on by a host of greedy killers, and “Flower Moon” captures their manipulation through the dynamics in Ernest and Mollie’s relationship.
“WOW. A harrowing story that is difficult to watch given the subject matter, but you can’t help but marvel at the mastery on screen,” wrote Ema Sasic of Next Best Picture. “Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Robert De Niro are absolutely incredible. Among top tier Martin Scorsese.”
Killers of The Flower Moon is a handsome, painstakingly researched Western drama with seemingly no expense spared on its costumes, vintage cars and reconstructed frontier towns. It’s punctuated with funny exchanges, sudden murders, and the kind of directorial flourishes you only get from Scorsese. But it is slow, meandering and episodic – more like a mini-series than an epic film – and that is partly down to the decision to focus on De Niro and DiCaprio’s characters. Ernest is the protagonist, and yet he is essentially a stooge who kills whomever he is ordered to kill, and often makes a mess of it. The story isn’t really about his moral dilemmas, because he doesn’t see the contradiction in loving his wife while arranging for her sisters to be bumped off. And it doesn’t work as a dark saga of dehumanising capitalist corruption, because Ernest is already an unrepentant crook when he comes to Fairfax. After a while, it feels as if there is no reason to watch this sponging lackey except that this was the role that DiCaprio chose to play.
Other alternative protagonists keep drifting into view. The film is adapted from David Grann’s book, which is subtitled “The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI”, and yet the main agent responsible for cracking the case, played by Jesse Plemons, isn’t introduced for two hours. Incidentally, the lawyers in the subsequent court case, played by John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser, don’t turn up for another half-hour after that. Or what about Mollie, who trusts Ernest, but is also a proud, cool-headed, perceptive woman who is determined that justice be served? Might the film have had more purpose if it had concentrated on her? There are fascinating revelations about how the Osage people are infantilised, and how they conduct their business, but these should have accounted for a bigger chunk of the three-and-a-half hour running time.
The last half-hour in particular prompts mixed feelings because, despite some touching, sober scenes, it becomes a Coen Brothersesque farce about just how stupid criminals can be. It’s the most enjoyable part of the film, but also the most questionable. If Scorsese was set on making a blackly comic romp featuring a patronising gangster and his numbskulled nephew, maybe he shouldn’t have used the real massacre of Native Americans as its subject.
Manori Ravindran, Variety international executive editor and senior writer, called it the rare movie that “has any business being over three hours long.” (Though Variety critic Peter Debruge disagreed, remarking, “ ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ isn’t an epic motion picture so much as a miniseries.”)
“Deeply compelling subject matter and a visual delight,” Ravindran wrote. “Finally, a Cannes breakout star in Lily Gladstone, and De Niro and DiCaprio’s chemistry is off the charts.”
“We shot this a couple of years ago in Oklahoma. It’s taken its time to come around but Apple did so great by us,” Scorsese said, addressing the crowd after the screening. “There was lots of grass. I’m a New Yorker.”
The red carpet drew a wide spectrum of stars. Along with the film’s expansive cast, attendees included Apple CEO Tim Cook, as well as actors Cate Blanchett, Salma Hayek, Paul Dano and Isabelle Huppert.
Though Grann’s book affords many possible inroads to the story, Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth center their story on Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio, in his seventh collaboration with Scorsese), a WWI veteran who falls for Mollie Brown (Gladstone), the member of a wealthy Osage family.
Since finding oil reserves on their land, the Osage were then the richest people per capita in the country. But that wealth is closely controlled by appointed white guardians. A series of murders prompts increased panic among the Osage, who are preyed on by a host of greedy killers.
Though Grann’s book devoted many pages to the connections between the cases and the birth of the FBI, less time is spent in Scorsese’s film on the murder investigations. (Jesse Plemons plays an agent from the just-formed Bureau.) Instead, “Killers of the Flower Moon” captures the manipulation and murders of Native American people through the dynamics in Ernest and Mollie’s relationship.
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