Film review: Killers of the Flower Moon

In the first of his new film reviews for Westside World, GRAHAM YOUNG reports on Martin Scorsese’s latest masterpiece.

Showing no signs of slowing down ahead of his 81st birthday in November, legendary director Martin Scorsese unites two of his most talented regular stars in Killers of the Flower Moon.

Robert De Niro is back for the tenth time and heir apparent Leonardo DiCaprio for a sixth – but this is the first time they’ve both headlined together for Scorsese.

The film is based on a true story detailed in a 2017 non-fiction book by American journalist David Grann called Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. It hinges on the warmth of love and bitterness of betrayal in a land where oil discoveries are proving that new money is a magnet for evil.

The story

When the Osage people in the state of Oklahoma suddenly become some of the richest people in the world thanks to the discovery of oil reserves, a string of murders ensues in this epic, indigenous 1920s’ western crime drama with horses and cars.

The plot offers a frighteningly-relevant nod to the modern world of scarce resources and its continuing impact on native people (and rare animals come to that).

The cast

DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart, with Lily Gladstone as his Native American wife, Mollie. De Niro is Ernest’s uncle William King Hale and the supporting cast includes Jesse Plemons (agent investigator Tom White), John Lithgow (Prosecutor Leaward) and Brendan Fraser, Hale’s attorney WS Hamilton.

Lily Gladstone with Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon.

The verdict

A wonderful relief from CGI technology, multiverse fantasies and photocopied horrors, Killers is the kind of old-school, storytelling filmmaking that is in danger of extinction.

The twist is that Scorsese has fashioned not so much a western-style reinvention of Goodfellas, but created his own kind of heightened Wes Anderson filmmaking. Death looms large in this new ‘Andersese’ world, where hideous brutality is toned down in favour of slower-paced human suffering at the hands of evil hiding in plain sight.

Hopefully the 206-minute running time will not deter film fans from watching Killers of the Flower Moon on the big screen. But while it never drags, the story could have been shortened considerably.

Too many vignettes mean the film is more of a character study than a true thriller. The early parts in particular could have done with more industrial oil and certainly more post-winter moon for extra landscape atmosphere.

But Lily Gladstone is outstanding throughout and the head-to-head scene between DiCaprio’s Ernest and Tommy Schultz’s Blackie Thompson is utterly mesmerising.

The crew

The script was penned by Oscar-winning Eric Roth (Forrest Gump / The Insider / A Star is Born), working with Scorsese, and the gorgeous cinematography is by Mexican Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain / Argo).

Production designer Jack Fisk worked with DiCaprio in near-impossible remote landscape conditions of The Revenant (2015).

Formerly Bob Dylan’s lead guitarist, composer Robbie Robertson sadly died aged 80 in August this year. But, like all of the above, he has left his own mark on a wholly original film, particularly in the scene-setting opening act.

Two weeks only in cinemas

A combination of rising costs and the pandemic saw Apple TV+ helping to fund the production for retained distributor Paramount Pictures – which means the film looks set to be in cinemas for just two weeks.

Cineworld Broad Street has some IMAX screenings, where it’s also playing in Screens 1 and 7.

After opening in iSense at Odeon Luxe Broadway Plaza, it is generally playing across screens 4, 6 and 11 with some appearances in Dolby Screen 3 to look out for from this week.

You can watch a teaser trailer for Killers of the Flower Moon here:

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

FILM LIST: Graham Young’s notes on films also now showing …

Gravity Tenth anniversary (12A, 93 mins)
Disaster strikes in space when veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is joined by medical engineer Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) on her first shuttle mission. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron and tagline ‘Don’t let go’, the film won seven Oscars from ten nominations, including cinematography, visual effects and score. Showing only in 3D in Cineworld Broad Street’s 4DX motion sensory screen to help you to feel the force.

***

Trolls Band Together (U, 91 mins)
In their third adventure, Poppy and Branch are now a couple – but she discovers he has a secret past as part of boyband phenomenon BroZone. A DreamWorks Animation for younger viewers with the voices of Anna Kendrick (Poppy) and Justin Timberlake (Branch) trying to add half-term appeal for mums and dads in a story about kidnapping and potential pop-culture obscurity.

***

Sumotherhood (15, 97 mins)
Writer, director and star Adam Deacon’s adult-themed multiracial comedy drama explores London’s crime culture in a new way with a certain style of rhyming language. The search for non-toxic humour works up to a point, but the silliness of the entire enterprise submerges subplots such as female staff being threatened by gun-toting male bank robbers. The film’s cameos include Jennifer Saunders, Linda Robson and pop star Ed Sheeran – reduced to delivering the wrong kind of Number Two in the bushes.

***

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (12A, 168 mins)
A near three-hour running time means fans of the 33-year-old star from Pennsylvania can spend most of the day escaping into her on-stage concert world.

***

The Exorcist: Believer (15, 111 mins)
Fifty years after the seminal original, another attempt to possess viewers’ minds is inevitably too tall of an order despite the promising beginning to a story about a man who has been raising daughter Angela for 12 years following the death of his pregnant wife in an earthquake.

***

Saw X (18, 118 mins)
Some horror franchises simply refuse to die, but at least the tenth instalment in this gruesome series is a better stab at drama than most of what has come before.

***

The Creator (12A, 133 mins)
Nuneaton-born director Gareth Edwards (Rogue One) delivers many memorable visual moments and thought-provoking themes in this sci-fi thriller about man vs AI in a future war, but the plot is comparatively incoherent and anyone expecting a James Cameron-style juggernaut like The Terminator will be left underwhelmed despite John David Washington in the lead role.

TOP TIP
Alfred Hitchcock was given his first directing job by a Brummie producer, Sir Michael Balcon. Cineworld is screening the ‘1960 Theatrical Cut’ of Psycho (15 / 109 mins) on Wednesday 25 October at 7.50pm. With Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins on peak form, you’ll be glad of that extra legroom in Screen 12. Tickets are just £5.

ENDS

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