Trust in Martin Scorsese whenever, wherever and especially when the occasion calls for a deep dive into the American psyche. His latest film seemingly brings the director’s entire career to a head, in the best way possible: The intense, dark Killers of the Flower Moon is a critical darling and a deeply complex film that recently earned more than $100 million globally at the box office.
Compared to, say, a superhero epic, that figure might seem small, but considering the subject matter of the DeNiro and DiCaprio flick, it comes across as quite impressive. Based upon 1920s murders of the Osage tribe in oil-rich Oklahoma, the film is largely unforgiving yet nuanced, with a star-making performance from Lily Gladstone as the wife of DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhardt.
Burkhardt, in real life and in the film, was enlisted by uncle William Hale in a corrupt scheme angled around murdering members of the Osage tribe to secure land, oil rights and wealth. It’s based upon the 2017 novel of the same name, and it stays true to form in plenty of different ways.
DiCaprio’s Burkhardt tends to cycle between forms, but they all revolve around money and other vices, as with so many characters in Scorsese films through the years. The historical significance only heightens the chase, at least in this writer’s opinion.
It’s a brutal film at points, and rightfully so – and critics have sung the praises of its star-studded cast. There are some frankly incredible moments as character actors, seasoned screen veterans and Native American tribe members steal the screen from moment to moment, seemingly in a race to see who can hold your attention – a successful endeavor, at that.
And with more than 400 critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, the film clocks in with an impressive 93 percent approval rating, lauded as a “a sobering appraisal of America's relationship with Indigenous peoples and yet another artistic zenith for Martin Scorsese and his collaborators.”
And yes, the film’s runtime is major compared to other flicks – more than three hours – yet the first hour moves by at an impressive clip that’s vintage Scorsese in its set-up and scope.
Over at The Ringer, critic Adam Nayman lavished the film with praise, calling it “a study of corrosion and corruption, of outsized and carnivorous appetites, told from within the belly of the beast.”
And lest you think it’s more of the same-old, same-old from Scorsese – he’s explored gangsters and criminals for decades in iconic films, after all – Nayman notes that “he’s fascinated by pack mentalities and the survival-of-the-fittest hierarchies therein.”
This latest epic is indeed more nuanced than it might seem, and there’s plenty of soul-searching to be done throughout the film itself. As with other Scorsese pictures, Killers of the Flower Moon chronicles a descent into corruption with an exacting, precise eye.
It’s a film that feels difficult to look away from – despite its runtime, it’s a vast picture on a grand scale, a fine showcase of a master at work. And it’s a film worth viewing with a proper dram of whiskey and a remarkable cigar close at hand – box office numbers and all, search for it on streaming platforms in the months ahead.
That’s probably an understatement: A master at work is just another day on set for cinema king Martin Scorsese.
About the author: Beau Hayhoe is a men's style and lifestyle writer based in Brooklyn, New York. He covers everything from menswear to watches, spirits and music. His work has appeared online at Esquire, Maxim, AskMen, Men's Journal, Gear Patrol, InsideHook and more. He's a devoted fan of Red Wing boots, Filson flannel shirts, Buck Mason jeans and a great dram of The Macallan.