I’d been waiting exultantly to see what an 80-year-old director named Martin Scorsese had achieved with his latest film, as I imagine every moviegoer with good taste had as well. The dearth of material, especially in American cinema, has been very long, but I was hoping that it would end with the decision by one of the few remaining masters of the craft to tell one more story. As for me, I felt like a child excitedly awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus, convinced that I was going to get the wonderful things that I had asked for. And far from being overwhelmed by the runtime of 206 minutes, I was instead ecstatic. I imagined I was going to spend all those minutes in heaven. And it’s true that I did not check my watch at all. The wisdom that this man’s camera contains prevented it. Still, almost nothing that he said in this movie fascinated me, it did not trigger in me those varied and priceless sensations that you get from the movies that make you fall in love with them, the characters that hypnotize you, all the things that you hear and observe.
I walked out of it with a feeling of bewilderment. I perceived an excessive and calculated density, a story and a tone starring sordid people and situations; most of the main characters gave me the creeps, everything was reversed in them, their evil nature had no power to fascinate me. I was only interested and moved by the present and future of one of the victims, an indigenous woman, honest and long-suffering, someone who exuded truth, a diabetic whose husband is injecting with poison, extraordinarily embodied by the actress Lily Gladstone, who unfortunately I had not heard of until now.
The perfidious events that Scorsese describes are apparently based on reality. They took place in the 1920s. In Oklahoma. There was a miracle: endless oil deposits were found in the reservation, where the Osage tribe was locked up. Those who owned almost nothing suddenly became rich. It was an opportunity for white vultures to pounce on them and strip them of these riches. With a violence that was initially concealed, but Machiavellian and fierce all the same. Some of these vultures married indigenous women, then murdered them for the sweet inheritance they wanted to collect. Everything is gloomy and murky in this story. The conspiracy is planned by a patriarchal figure, a falsely engaging old man, someone as cruel as he is repulsive behind his good manners. Among the mob that submissively follows his twisted orders, one individual takes center stage: a nephew of the patriarch, a former war combatant with aspirations, but also a fool, doubting at times between greed and love for his Osage wife and his children. Paradoxically, it is the FBI, created and directed by the sinister Edgar Hoover, that gets suspicious about the death of all those women who were blessed by fortune and later massacred. And the investigation uncovers a malevolent universe without the slightest trace of mercy.
There are brilliant moments in this sordid story. It is the ending, staged like a radio play and with Scorsese himself acting as narrator and master of ceremonies. But the development of the story makes me uncomfortable and uneasy about the bad guys. I find the white predators repellent, I don’t have the courage to witness abominable people and their methodology for killing off the innocent for so long. There is an atmosphere, but it is exclusively a sick one. And I am not subjugated by the highly praised performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, either. I am only overcome with emotion, understanding, and pity every time Lily Gladstone appears on-screen. And I agree that extreme violence has been a longstanding theme in Scorsese’s world. He did it with capital art in Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York and The Irishman. And there was also a lot of internal violence in the wonderful The Age of Innocence. But here, I just find it unpleasant.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow.
Genre: Thriller. United States, 2023.
Runtime: 206 minutes.
Premiere: October 20.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition