Take the last hour of The Irishman with that Robert De Niro in cupio dissolvi and expand it to a three-and-a-half-hour film in the twilight vistas of the 1920s. Recover the brooding atmospheres of Silence and forget those frantic ones in Goodfellas and Casino, think back then to the Leonardo DiCaprio infiltrated of Gangs of New York and The Departed and place his character (dumber than Griffin Dunne’s character in Out of Hours) in the spiritual context of Kundun: you will have only a superficial idea of What Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese’s latest film, really is.Perhaps the most fascinating, contradictory and by far the most complex -especially for the general public – of all the works created by the New York-based master in the 21st century (here you can find the announcement trailer of Killers of The Flower Moon).
A rarefied and rhythmless late-western, indeed anti-rhythm, a non-thriller that forgoes detection by revealing victims and perpetrators from the outset (the screenplay is based on a real-life event, and Scorsese uncovers the cards from minute zero, in a prologue resembling that of There Will Be Blood that has, however, forsaken its inimitable dryness to become somber and solemn, how somber and solemn the whole film will be). An anti-gangster focused on the inhumanity that must exist somewhere in a gangster’s body for him to perform the acts that identify him as such.
An unexpected, surprising and anti-divisive film, a ruthless stillicide operation that returns an idea of cinema perfectly in line with Martin Scorsese of recent years – that of the crusade against Hollywood blockbusters, particularly superhero movies – but very little suited to the general public.
Killers of the Flower Moon: funeral lament
Based on the play of the same name Non-fiction best seller written by David Grann (an author from whom Scorsese is also expected to draw his next film, The Wager, an investigation that reconstructs the story of a real mutiny in the 1700s), Killers of the Flower Moon stages the events that led to the so-called “reign of terror”, when in 1920, in Osage County, dozens of Indian tribe members were murdered under mysterious circumstances after oil was discovered on their lands. Oil that had made the natives immensely rich overnight.
Clearly, this increased flow of money led whites to settle in Osage, officially as subordinates of the Indians (drivers, handymen, husbands of Indian women heiresses of immense concessions) but unofficially as puppeteers, manipulators, deceivers, murderers: among them, the political leader William Hale (De Niro), a wealthy landowner pretending to be a darling of the Indians who all his life has ‘secretly’ – but in the light of day – sabotaged their operations, going far beyond gangster methods in order to seize the natives’ property and acting as a veritable Godfather of a criminal association stained with terrible and heinous crimes in the name of profit.
Have no fear, this is not a spoiler but the gist of the matter: the story is well known, especially in the United States, and Scorsese makes it clear in the very first minutes when Hale’s nephew Ernest (DiCaprio) is basically In charge of seducing and marrying Mollie Burkart (Lily Gladstone)., eldest daughter of the richest Osage family in the territory, for the sole purpose of seizing her inheritance and taking it to the Hale family.
A disorienting Scorsese
Martin Scorsese’s idea is unsettling because it is unique, in the sense of never seen before: this gangster movie that gangster movie will never become, acting mainly in the fields of drama but embracing often and often the black comedy, transcends the epic of the encounter/clash of peoples (one could draw up a long list of comparisons with Heaven’s Gate by Michael Cimino, but only superficially) to look with absolute patheticism and deep shame at white, male, criminals. They are all inept, and Killers of the Flower Moon laughs at them as it dedicates a funeral lament to the end of a pure America (that of the Indians) besieged with smiles, with kindnesses, with promises of love.
Not even in the 1970s, during the period of western revisionism – when Hollywood began making protest movies telling the Wild West from the point of view of Indians and white atrocities to create parallels with the Vietnam War – culminating in the romance of Dances with Wolves, it had been seen something so morbid and funereal in painting the ruthlessness of the white power grab, here doubly disarming because it arrived not in the frontier territories (apocalyptic land par excellence as taught by Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian) but in the beating heart of America, among the quibbles of its laws, on the black and white of signed and filed contracts.
Devoid of pathos and often witty and chilling for that very reason, Killers of the Flower Moon is the story of a pack of wolves disguised as sheep who reveal their true identities only from time to time (note how Scorsese shoots those few murders he chooses to show us, look at the banal coldness with which they are depicted, always full-length as on a theater stage), told from the point of view of a cursed love story.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s character’s sentiment for Lily Gladstone’s is probably true (the ambiguity with which the protagonist is portrayed is rare indeed, for a $200 million production) but so buried under the automatisms of the white man’s abuse of the ‘Native American’ woman from manifesting itself as now hopelessly distorted (overwhelming the way we are told of her love for him, hesitant but resilient in spite of everything).
Killers of the Flower is a further step toward the end of genres, in the Scorsese mindset, compared to The Irishman (which merely remixed the author’s youthful cinema, with dubious CGI eating up much of the 250 million budget that in Killers, by contrast, is seen all in the sets). A testament film that concludes a journey begun with Silence: a funeral march accompanied by the ghostly notes of Robbie Robertson for a story that defined an era and that this kind of cinema, which no longer exists anywhere and which perhaps only Scorsese can afford today, knows how to make at the same time classical and contemporary..