3 hr. 27 min. | Rated M | Violence, offensive language, and content that
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser, Cara Jade Myers, Janae Collins, Jillian Dion
The deeply unpalatable day when Martin Scorsese, now 80 years old, hangs up his clapperboard for good is drawing steadily nearer, but the great man isn’t going quietly into the night. His latest, an utterly gripping, impeccably constructed and politically-charged crime saga, wipes the dust from a neglected corner of indigenous American history – the serial murders of Osage Native Americans in 1920s Oklahoma – to tell a subversive story of greed, violence and systemic injustice that sits alongside some of his best work.
In the early 20th century, the Osage people struck oil, enriching themselves and attracting hordes of white hucksters, hawkers and salespeople like bees to a honeypot.
Whether Flower Moon is best categorised as crime flick, conspiracy thriller or western is up for debate. What it definitely isn’t is a whodunnit. Scorsese and Eric Roth’s screenplay fingers Robert De Niro’s owlish, avuncular cattle baron William Hale early as the man behind the crimes – he’s knocking off the ‘injuns’ to get their oil rights.
To speed the process, he needs his nephew, boneheaded Great War veteran Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), to marry Osage heiress Mollie (newcomer Lily Gladstone). What Hale doesn’t bank on is Mollie stealing his nephew’s heart, initiating a tug of war for this man’s soul.
Only getting better with age, DiCaprio makes this feckless, jaundiced man human, but it’s newcomer Gladstone who provides the film with a flinty emotional core. Mollie is all mercurial charm and inscrutability, and the actress brings a deep emotional eloquence to a role that rarely furnishes her with much dialogue. Somehow, she sells the idea that there’s something in Burkhart that’s worth loving – and with it, she sells the whole film.
Thelma Schoonmaker’s masterful editing weaves together the story’s many threads and its rich ensemble of characters (special mention to Louis Cancelmi). And Robbie Robertson’s old-timey blues score beats time to a movie so richly entertaining, its three hours and 26 minutes whip by in a blur. As the great man himself would say, what a picture!