The history of movies has already marked the achievements of Martin Scorsese. His contributions to the art form – monumental. The style and visual panache inspire new filmmakers to this day. Scorsese’s complicated relationship with religion, violence, and death echoes throughout his filmography. While he’s often associated with the gangsters, he’s also found beauty in a late New York evening, celebrity talk shows, and repressed love. Yet throughout his career, Marty never took aim at a subject as serious as Killers of the Flower attempts to tackle.
The phenomenon of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women has gained new attention within the industry in recent years. Earlier in 2023, the docuseries Murder in the Bighorn and Fancy Dance each centered on the epidemic. Yet neither drew the attention that they deserved. It’s important we advance these conversations and bring them into the mainstream, and Scorese’s ambitious Killers does that, even if he’s an imperfect vessel to tell the tale.
That is not to say that Marty directs it poorly. If anything, he approaches the subject with his most nuanced and clever direction in more than a decade. While The Irishman felt like a summation of his legacy, Killers of the Flower Moon makes a play for immortality.
Gladstone, who also headlined the incredible Fancy Dance, delivers one of the most nuanced performances of the decade. Her power lies in her face and eyes – which convey the deep wells of sorrow and anger in her story. Gladstone’s performance masterfully takes over the film, making us yearn for more time with her even when the story does not allow for that time. Every feeling that is meant to come through Gladstone hits with precision. It’s among the best performances of the past decade. While we know that DiCaprio and De Niro will deliver in Marty’s hands, it is Gladstone who dominates Killers of the Flower Moon. Without her, this film does not feel as prescient.
De Niro brings his most menacing character to the screen in forty years. The evil and lack of respect for human life is breathtaking. By focusing on his complicated maneuvers and DiCaprio’s laissez-faire attitude toward death, Scorsese achieves his most meaningful work in decades. While we embed with the monsters of Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese never frames them in a sympathetic light. He instead uses their star personas to show how even a little charisma allows white men to get away with horrific acts of violence, and the colonialized norms of America have given even these incompetent criminals near immunity. It’s only after the actions of the Osage can no longer be ignored by the government that they step into the fray, and even then, only investigate a small sliver of the violence.
This culminates in arguably the greatest ending of Scorese’s career. It’s a primal scream, reminding us audiences find entertainment in the darkest stories. This became particularly prevalent within predominantly white audiences for decades. Across the long history of film, western stories are led by white men saving the indigenous community or telling stories specifically through a white lens and leaving the heroism with its white protagonists.
Yet to those who suffer and die, these events are not enjoyable. The horrors faced by indigenous people may not even be part of their story when it’s all said and done. Scorsese’s choice to embed us with the villains of this atrocity is natural. Scorsese knows he cannot understand the many horrors faced by this community. Yet he can showcase how white-dominated ideological states easily manipulate weak people to follow charismatic, sinister men. The harrowing depiction of banal evil and the way it infects culture is one of Scorsese’s most profound statements in his storied career.
The power of Killers of the Flower Moon will only continue to grow in the decades to follow. Every minute of his three-and-a-half-hour epic pulses with political and practical commentary. As Scorsese examines the affects of white supremacy and inherent greed of “cultured” man, he reminds us how America landed where we are today. From our earliest moments as a colony, those with power have enforced their ideological beliefs and physical strength on others. Scorsese reminds us that even when the Osage found success in spite of having everything stolen from them, white greed and power could not abide that shift. This white supremacy remains everywhere in America. You just have to look.