FILM REVIEW — “Killers” collapses under its own weight

Published 12:02 am Friday, October 20, 2023

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo DeCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone and Jesse Plemons

Rated R

3 Stars

Martin Scorsese’s movies have always been big events—but his latest film, “The Killers of the Flower Moon” is the biggest one yet. That’s because this one clocks in at a whopping 3 hours and 26 minutes!

As I left the theater, there was only one question on my mind.

Where is the restroom?

But as I left the restroom, the next question was whether the film gained anything from its bladder-busting runtime. I’m a bit conflicted by my answer, but unfortunately, I think that “Killers of the Flower Moon” loses focus and meanders as it tries to tell such an expansive historical crime story.

That story is based on real-life events from the 1920s when prospectors found oil on the Osage reservation in Oklahoma. Members of the tribe shared in the sudden wealth, but outside forces conspired to steal their land rights, culminating in the murder of some thirty Native Americans.

This is the backdrop of our story where a soldier (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns from World War I and goes to work as a driver for his uncle (Robert De Niro). He falls in love with a Native American woman (Lily Gladstone), but tragedy strikes when the members of her family start dying, either from wasting sickness or outright murder.

Part of the film focuses on the Osage nation’s attempts to bring the killers to justice, but most of the story follows the bad guys as they plot to tie up all of the oil money for their own use. It’s disconcerting to spend so much time following these amoral villains posing as good guys, even while they secretly carry out their despicable plans. Scorsese has always been obsessed with the bad guys, but I would have rather spent more time with the victims in this movie.

Part of my discontent comes because I was shocked when a killer suddenly strode into frame and shot somebody in the back of the head. I instinctively wanted that person to have to pay for his crime. But my passions waned after spending the next few hours focused on the various machinations of the scheme to defraud the Osage. By the time an FBI Agent (Jesse Plemons) showed up, thoughts of punishing the bad guys had become something of an afterthought.

That’s a shame, as the film is handsomely mounted. The cinematography, costumes and period set design are all top notch. The acting is also exceptionally good. DiCaprio is the main figure here, but De Niro is having a blast playing a larger-than-life character, and Birdsong is wonderful playing the heart of this story, even though she disappears somewhat during the film’s ponderous middle section.

This is a great movie at times, but it loses its focus and its audience engagement, making “Killers of the Flower Moon” into a noble miss, rather than a masterpiece.

Scorsese has always been a champion of seeing movies only in movie theaters, so it’s a bit ironic that this story might have worked better if it had been expanded into a 10-hour prestige miniseries on TV.

I still enjoyed the film a great deal. It looks great, the actors are superb, and I love that Scorsese took a big swing here. Unfortunately, I think it collapses under its own weight. By the end, my mind, heart (and bladder) had all disconnected from the story.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Orange Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at sean@seanthemovieguy.com.