The latest Martin Scorsese film, Killers of the Flower Moon, could have really benefited from an intermission with its lengthy run time.
I’ve been struggling what to say about the new Scorsese film for the better part of the month. It is a very long film–running nearly 3.5 hours long. Honestly, I don’t blame the theaters that decided to give it an intermission. Personally speaking, I’d have done the same if I were watching the film from home. I know multiple people who did the same with The Irishman upon its Netflix arrival. There is no reason to think that this film will be any different with audiences watching in parts.
This is a lot of film and it takes some time to digest it all. Unless you’ve come into the film having read David Grann’s book, it’s possible that a lot of this is going to be new. For instance, the Osage are wealthy because of oil on their land. Why is it that they have guardianships controlled by white people? If this isn’t enough, there are racist white men who are deploying a scheme so as to still the headrights. It plays a major part of the film and I firmly believe that an Indigenous filmmaker would be a better person to tell the story. In having Scorsese direct and co-write, he is already coming into the film with a white gaze. However, an Indigenous filmmaker telling the story would probably lead to the film being a bigger learning lesson.
Scorsese’s film differs from the whodunit approach that David Grann’s non-fiction book takes. I believe this was also done at Leonardo DiCaprio’s request. The Oscar-winning actor wanted the film to center the Osage but sadly, this doesn’t happen either and that’s something I keep thinking about. In any event, there have been a staggering amount of Osage killed because of oil rights. It does not take too long to realize who exactly is behind the killings. Moreover, there’s no rooting for Leonardo DiCaprio or Robert De Niro in this film. The script makes damn sure that we know who the bad guys are–William Hale (Robert De Niro) and nephew Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio). In fairness to Ernest, we don’t know the extent of his involvement, at least not until later on. Regardless, FBI agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons) is on their tails.
When it comes to the film’s focus on the Osage, we experience them through the lens of Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone). Ernest seduces and then marries her for headrights to her oil money. At his uncle’s behest, he later poisons her while also playing a role in the murders of her siblings. He’d certainly have gotten away with killing her if not for the FBI’s involvement in 1923. The FBI only got involved after Mollie made a plea in Washington for help. An earlier attempt to hire a private investigator only resulted in his murder. Again, the white men did whatever they could to cover up their own crimes.
Speaking of massacres, the 1921 Tulsa race massacre takes place during the film’s timeline. Tulsa was only a half hour away from where the Osage were living. Interestingly, both of these largely went under the radar until recent years. I say this because I never heard of either if not for films or TV mentioning them. As for the book itself, a lot of newspapers no longer run book reviews and when they do, they’re very selective in coverage. If you’re not on social media at the right time, you won’t see a friend’s post on the screen unless the algorithm wants you to see it.
In writing my review of Killers of the Flower Moon, I think the story is better told as a limited series with a stronger focus on the Osage. There is certainly no denial that Scorsese is giving it his all–not to mention the cast and crew–but he focuses way too much on the criminal side of things. Why not spend more time on the Osage by letting us get to know Mollie and her family? The white male gaze does not give the Osage their due in the way that this film should.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
SCREENWRITER: Eric Roth & Martin Scorsese
CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser, Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, Jillian Dion, Jason Isbell, William Belleau, Louis Cancelmi, Scott Shepherd, Everett Waller, Talee Redcorn, Yancey Red Corn, Tatanka Means, Sturgill Simpson, Pat Healy, Michael Abbott Jr.