A long runtime isn’t inherently bad. These days, audiences tire out easily—worried about bathroom breaks or waning attention spans. In many cases, their complaints hold merit, but the added hours don’t damn a film. That is if the director finds the right momentum. At 206 minutes, Killers of the Flower Moon is a colossal testament to Martin Scorsese’s enduring ability as a filmmaker, compounded by gripping performances from Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Killers of the Flower Moon unfolds amid a string of brutal murders within the wealthy Osage Nation, who rose to prominence after discovering oil on the reservation in the early 20th century. The film opens with Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio), a dim WWI veteran, who arrives in town to find his soft-spoken and calculating uncle, William Hale (De Niro). Soon after arriving, Ernest falls for Mollie (Gladstone), an unmarried Osage Nation member, and the two marry. But in the backdrop of their romance, a sinister plan breeds, and Ernest is more than complicit.
Unlike most crime thrillers, the film’s “twist” is on full display. Scorsese refrains from hiding William and Ernest’s diabolical intentions. Instead, he unfurls the conspiracy to slaughter the Osage and capture their wealth right before us. But his directness does not mute the heartbreak, pain, or even shock of the murder and deception that follows.
Ernest and William’s machinations transpire with unnerving composure. Almost unbothered by the murders, their mounting treachery becomes increasingly violent—and closer to home. Mollie’s family and friends lose their lives, but she’s unable to face the truth, looking at Ernest with skepticism, not condemnation. Here, Gladstone pulls the whole film together. Her performance both translates the disbelief and despair to the audience and emblematizes the historical betrayal of Native Americans. In the film, Scorcese studies evil’s facade and then peeks inside. To no one’s surprise, it’s an ugly truth. R, 206 min.
Wide release in theaters