Monday, October 09, 2023

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON*** - BFI London Film Festival 2023 - Day 5

Martin Scorsese is an iconic masterful film-maker and his latest film, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is perfection in every frame. The problem is, to quote the King in Amadeus, there are too many notes.  Scorsese's film is three and a half hours long and could easily have shed an hour of its running time and lost none of its narrative coherence, political importance or emotional resonance. I fear that Scorsese has become a victim of the lack of discipline afforded to directors funded by streamers.  He has lost sight of what it feels like to be a cinema audience asked to endure nearly four hours of a beautifully crafted but lugubrious narrative.  Maybe he should just admit that - as much as he advocates for cinema - this is just meant to be viewed on Apple TV over consecutive nights as a kind of self-curated TV series.

The film takes place in Osage County, Oklahoma and tells the true story of a series of horrific murders that took place in the inter-war years.  The Osage discovered oil on their land, and became ludicrously wealthy thanks to head rights to the leases.  But the white man could not abide this upending of the racial order, and just as he took revenge on the black middle classes in Tulsa, he took revenge in Osage.  Osage were often placed under a kind of conservatorship so they couldn't freely spend their wealth, they were ripped off by white merchants, and finally they were married and murdered for their head rights.

This film and the excellent book upon which it is based by David Grann focuses on the story of one family, while making it clear that there were many other murders. Mollie Burckhardt is one of four sisters, whose mother will eventually leave them her head rights.  Mollie falls for Ernest Burckhardt, whose uncle "King" Hale poses as a friend of the Osage while plotting to make sure that all of that inheritance flows to his nephew. The tragedy of the tale is seeing how far Ernest betrayed the woman he loved, and his own children, because "I sure do like that money". Eventually the crimes become so heinous, that, with the help of substantial Osage lobbying, Washington cannot ignore them. The nascent FBI is called in and justice is served of a sort.

The structure of this film is broadly speaking two hours of family life and murder followed by 90 minutes of police and courtroom procedural.  I feel we could have lost a lot of time from both but particularly the latter section. That said, as I said, everyone is on top form here. Robbie Robertson's score (his last) is kinetic - Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography is beautiful; Lily Gladstone is magisterial as Mollie and Leonardo di Caprio and Robert de Niro are compelling as her husband and his uncle respectively. I just felt zoned out by the end of it, and the final epilogue of justice lost its impact, which is a tremendous shame.

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON has a running time of 206 minutes and is rated R. It played Cannes and London 2023. It goes on global release on October 20th.

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