Film Review: Killers of the Flower Moon is Martin Scorsese at his boldest

In many ways, Killers of the Flower Moon is a celebration of everything we love about Martin Scorsese, whether it’s the flawed gangster charm of Goodfellas or the arresting psychological nuances of Taxi Driver. Though with a budget of between $200-250 million for this epic crime western, you cannot fault this film on being a bold and ambitious 202 minute artistic expression of the real life systemic Osage Indian Murders that took place in the troubled American times of early 1920s.

Based on the novel of the same name by investigative journalist David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon is a bitter and sombre demonstration of America’s troubled treatment of their indigenous population, showcasing the almost disturbingly entrepreneurial and methodical lengths people would go to to stamp out those that are different to them – either physically, racially or financially.

Scorsese’s golden boy, Leonardo DiCaprio, returns to play Ernest Buckhart, a humble man looking to settle down, find love, and rekindle his ties to his beloved uncle, William King Hale, played by the one and only Robert De Niro, who presents himself to be a beloved man of the people in this modest Oklahoman town.

Seeing two legendary heavyweights like DiCaprio and De Niro simply engaging in small talk is a sight to behold. I could have easily watched all the dailies and rushes of such scenes they share for hours on end. The two share effortless chemistry as family members who loves each other, but to a deeply disturbing fault.  Ernest and William navigate their responsibilities in both their family and business life, with Ernest marrying Molly (played with utter triumph by Lily Gladstone); Her eyes will tell you things about your soul that you didn’t even know were there.

This film presents its dark and cruel undertones from the get-go, but watching these characters unravel across the 202 minute runtime did not feel as bloated as I initially was concerned about.  The opening is something of a typical slow burn as we start to find out how our characters tick, as well as what’s wrong in a town that’s attempting to be project a masking of innocence.  The pacing flows remarkably well from here, with carefully curated editing and a flourish of contrasting emotions that are nail-biting as they are heart-breaking.

The cinematography is equally as immaculate, with a sumptuous visuality that, at times, lets the character’s performance breathe out of the screen; there’s something so beautiful in watching a veteran filmmaking juggernaut like Scorsese embrace a more voyeuristic mind-set for certain sequences and framing.

Though hard to nitpick on such a finely polished piece of film, if there’s one thing I do find ever so slightly off, it’s the main character of Ernest, as played by DiCaprio. Now, this character, you could argue, is very much a typical Scorsese-DiCaprio collaboration of mixed and troubled motivations, paired with questionable character flaws. But unlike past anti-heroes DiCaprio embodied under Scorsese’s helm (whether that’s The Departed, Shutter Island or The Wolf of Wall Street), there’s a two-dimensionality to here that I found supremely odd.  Ernest has very simple needs and desires, and maybe there’s something to be said about a portrayal of an every-man, rather than some larger than life figure.  But as you start to see him face the moral dilemmas that start defining his character, his responses and motivations come off a bit one-note.  Perhaps I’m not as intelligent as I need to be to digest this film, but it didn’t necessarily make for a captivating ingredient. This resulted in a character that I really didn’t like at all from beginning to end, and didn’t possess any qualities that I found interesting.  However, I’m sure some of you will argue that maybe that’s the point, and that Lily Gladstone is the character we all root for.

The film touches on a very real historical subject matter that proves its relevance in our troubled modern times.  Whilst I’m sure there are people out there more researched and educated in the historical accuracy and representation of the Oklahoma Murders in the Osage Nation, it’s retelling as a piece of film will be a treasured gem within Scorsese’s filmography for years to come; though, that 202 minute runtime could’ve made this a more compelling mini-series, which could have allowed a further fleshing out of DiCaprio and De Niro characters.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Killers of the Flower Moon is now screening in select Australian theatres now!  It is scheduled for a release later this year on Apple TV+.

Tony Ling

Tony is a dynamic freelance writer, video editor, and photographer looking to make a difference! With a robust creative education from AFTRS and the Sydney Conservatorium, Tony's creative journey through Australia's premier film and music institutions has equipped him with a versatile range of multidisciplinary screen storytelling skills. His post-production expertise has contributed to acclaimed Australian shows like Bondi Rescue, The Australian Wars, and Home & Away, along with delivering and QC’ing content for streaming giants like Stan and Paramount+. Beyond broadcast, Tony crafts diverse content – from producing NSW Health cooking videos to capturing Sydney's live music scene. With years of experience writing food, film, and music reviews for established Aussie publications, he now thrives among the pop culture enthusiasts here at The AU Review. Currently an Assistant Editor & Media Operator at The Post Lounge, a prestigious Australian post-production facility at their Sydney office, Tony continues to advance his post production craft for TPL’s incredible feature film and television portfolio. Driven by an insatiable curiosity, Tony is always on the look out for a good story. Connect with him on Instagram @tonydalingling and be part of his creative journey of new discoveries!