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Killers of the Flower Moon – Cannes 2023 (Film Review)

3 min read

Still Courtesy - Paramount Pictures

Currently sustaining the record for the longest post-production period in 's illustrious career, Killers of the Flower Moon was met with delighted intrigue by cinephiles and Indigenous communities upon its announcement. Many were suspicious about Scorsese's absence from the 2022 festival circuit during last year's Oscar season; as shooting wrapped on Killers months prior. The confounding scale, ambition, and subsequent delays of Scorsese's latest were all in service of initiating a critical dialogue with the members of the Osage Nation. When pitching an adaptation of a horrifying true-story which revolves around mass-murder, capital greed, and the ripple effects of Indigenous genocide — integral questions about the on-screen representation are undeniably warranted. Adapting complex Indigenous history is never easy, especially with a white director at the helm. Compromise, discussions, re-shoots, and the creation of a satisfying picture were the key factors in the prolonged release of Scorsese's latest crime-saga. 

The behind-the-camera discussions on the importance of representation flourish within Scorsese's promising prologue. Establishing its narrative by visually communicating the economic & sociological prosperity of the Osage people through silent-film title-cards; Scorsese plays with the iconography of the 1920's with joyful ambition. The images on display establish a positive representation of Indigenous communities — separating itself from the familiar folly of a racist John Wayne motion-picture. Robbie Robertson's score accompanies Scorsese's images of Indigenous excellence with an irresistible rhythm. The musical arrangements enhance the film's dark content with a soulful cadence. Scorsese specifically emphasises the on-screen portrayal of the once wealthy Osage Nation with an empathetic lens, before jumping into the capitalistic atrocity at play. 

Still Courtesy – Paramount Pictures

's commanding supporting performance is the heart & soul of Killers of the Flower Moon's rousing drama. Gladstone expertly shifts her minuscule mannerisms, to support her character's physical and psychological deteriorations. We feel Mollie Burkhart's anguish. Her trembling pupils are purposefully scattered in one devastating fire-bound sequence. Gladstone's steady breaths accompany Burkhart's trauma with bountiful realism. is subsequently paired with Gladstone's radiant on-screen presence, as her official co-star. DiCaprio, as per usual, completely transforms into a chameleon-state — without ever relying on needless makeup or prosthetics. His posture and line-delivery is purposefully subdued; as his character's manic frowns and lethargic glares expose Ernest Burkhart's spiralling subconscious 

On the other hand, there's a diminishing after-taste to DiCaprio's immaculate performance. While there's nothing wrong in the technicality of his portrayal, Killers of the Flower Moon often relishes far too heavily in Ernest Burkhart's malignant headspace. For nearly half of its entire runtime, we are stuck in his pitiful shoes. The representation and cinematic study of Burkhart's motives dwindles between the blurred line of humanisation and depiction. Scorsese often falls for his reminiscent gangster conventions as a bi-product of the rogue perspective. 

Still Courtesy – Paramount Pictures

Bludgeoned heads, decomposing bodies, and graphic gun-shots are showcased in Scorsese's cacophony of Indigenous-targeted violence. Thelma Schoonmaker slick picture-edit generates an insatiable tempo with the atrocities on display. The cutting, pace, and execution of various sequences found within Killers of the Flower Moon's underwhelming finale compliment Burkhart's deplorable perspective. However, the presentation of the aforementioned acts fails to build upon the refreshing opening. The violence is inherently fetishistic, out of place, and questionable; calling attention to Scorsese's stylised direction in the limelight of an Indigenous-centric story. Scorsese's genre-applications are empty as a result. A more subtle vision would have better served Killers of the Flower Moon's narrative — matching the patient and borderline Hitchcockian tension that is dispersed throughout the film's establishing act. 

As it stands, Scorsese's latest should be applauded for its craft; as the back-stage conversations demonstrated a radical collaboration process between Scorsese and the Osage representatives. Outside of its admirable production history, Scorsese delivers a hesitant crime-epic that highlights an incredibly uncomfortable event in American history. Killers of the Flower Moon still collapses under the weight of its Hollywood exertions; diminishing the impact of its Indigenous perspective by vocalising the actions of the perpetrators over the victims of the Oklahoman murders.  

Killers of the Flower Moon premiered out-of-competition at this year's 76th Cannes Film Festival.