Friday 20 October 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon (Movie Review)

As we enter into awards season, one can expect a good helping of Oscar-bait movies to find their way into cinemas. So while we've already had films like Oppenheimer and Air throwing their hats into the ring, most of the expected heavy hitters are only now starting to reveal themselves. And they don't really get much heavier than Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese's $200 million epic drama. But does the film put all that money to good use or is it simply overlong and overbudgeted?

Based on the book of the same name, the film tells the story of the true-life events that came to be known as the Osage murders. It features an acting ensemble that includes Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. The former plays a man returning home from the war to help his uncle in the Osage Nation, a reserve largely owned and controlled by wealthy Native Americans. But after he marries into one such family at the behest of his uncle, he is soon pushed to go to any lengths to help secure the family inheritance.

The first I'd heard of Killers of the Flower Moon was back when it was still being shopped around by Martin Scorsese. It immediately drew attention due to its $200 million price tag, an amount that was eventually raised when distribution rights were picked up by Apple TV+. But rather than relegate the film to their streaming platform, the company has chosen to give it a full theatrical release. This would no doubt go a long way in helping it recoup some of that cost as well as boosting its prospects for consideration at the various film awards.

As for whether or not any of that money is on display during the movie itself, I'd say that it certainly feels just as epic and sprawling as it had set out to be. The film is beautifully shot as one would expect from a director of the caliber of Martin Scorsese. But unlike his previous film, The Irishman, which had made extensive use of CGI to de-age its main actors, this one has a harder time justifying its budget, especially in the wake of a film like The Creator which was several times more ambitious and cost half as much to make.

This means that most of its production cost must have gone towards salaries for its stellar acting ensemble. Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro give what could be considered career-best performances but it was actually Lily Gladstone that serves as the film's emotional core. Her performance was restrained and yet powerful, evoking all the pain and suffering her character was made to go through. So I'll definitely be expecting to hear her name get called out among the nominees at next year's Oscars, along with the two other headliners. The fact that both Jesse Plemons and Brendan Fraser don't even make an appearance until well into the movie's runtime just shows just how stacked the cast is.

Speaking of runtime, you do start to feel the film's overall length at nearly three and a half hours, especially during the second act when things began to drag a bit. But it is a testament to the tightly-written script that I was kept engaged for most of the movie regardless. It did sort of just fizzle out at the end though, right where one would expect a more pronounced climax and resolution, but I'll put that down to it being beholden to presenting the facts as close to the way they had happened in real life as it could, as opposed to something more cinematic or sensational.

And that is another area where I feel the movie might alienate more casual viewers, in the way that it presents some of its facts with very little context, almost as though it expects that the viewer is already well versed in its subject matter. It also bears mentioning that the film might be a little too hard to stomach for some due to the deplorable nature of the killings alluded to by its title, as it never shies away from depicting each one in cold and graphic ways.

Killers of the Flower Moon is as rewarding as it is challenging to watch. It forgoes traditional payoffs in favor of an examination of the evils people are capable of in their greedy pursuits. The fact that it is still able to pause long enough to allow the viewer to appreciate moments of beauty amidst all of its horrors helps keep it grounded and well out of the realm of being considered exploitative. But its length and dire subject matter might sadly keep it out of many people's comfort zones.


  1. Almost went to see it yesterday, but run time and the reviews that said it was slow and depressing turned me away. Shame about the budget. The Creator certainly displayed its small budget well.

    1. I imagine it will be available to stream on Apple TV+ soon enough, and watching from home should make the length more manageable.

  2. With that runtime I'd definitely want to watch it at home if I had Apple TV+. At about 400 pages maybe it'd be easier for me to read the book. Despite inflation, $200M still seems more like a big action movie budget than something like this.

    1. True. You don't really see many historical dramas with a $200 million price tag.