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Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Killers Of The Flower Moon

Title: Killers of the Flower Moon

Describe This Movie In One Animal House Quote:
ERIC "OTTER" STRATTON: Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America! Gentlemen!
Brief Plot Synopsis: Everything is terrible and always has been.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3.5 Judge Dredds out of 5.
Tagline: N/A

Better Tagline: "Don't never ever trust whitey."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns from World War I (Ernest in the Army) and begins working as a driver for his uncle, the powerful businessman William Hale (Robert De Niro) (Ernest Rides Again). Before long, he falls for a local Osage woman named Mollie (Lily Gladstone)  and gets married, even as the suspicious murders of dozens of Osage threatens them both (Ernest Scared Stupid), not the least because of Ernest's own criminal endeavors (Ernest Goes to Jail?).
"Critical" Analysis: Whether Martin Scorsese knew the effect his now notorious (among...certain fans) comments about superhero movies would have, or whether he even cared, Killers of the Flower Moon couldn't bolster his statements any more overtly.

Contemplative to a fault and paced so deliberately as to be almost Malickian, Killers is the slowest of slow burns. Yet it's the work of a director so sure of his craft and a cast so dialed in one can't help but expect the very best of all involved, yes?

In the case of Gladstone, most certainly. Adapting David Grann's book, Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth wisely chose to make Mollie the central character, and it's a wise decision. DiCaprio and De Niro will doubtless be in the thick of EOY awards discussion, but Gladstone is the stoic center of the storm. Whether playing off Ernest's attentions or gradually succumbing to the horrors visited upon her people, you can't take your eyes off her.

For Scorsese, this is unfamiliar territory with familiar themes. Greedy, violent, and often stupid men out to take whatever they can with little to no compunction about the effects on others. That the victims in this case are the Osage people only highlights the divide. One of the Osage council, discussing the need to seek help from Washington, describes white men as, "Buzzards circling, waiting to pick the body clean." As metaphors for colonialism go, it's hard to top.

Themes of patriarchy and cultural erasure are brought forward by Mollie's marrying the perpetually frowning Ernest in the first place. She has his number from the beginning, yet has no choice but to accept his behavior — dumb at first, then sinister.

More amusing is the growing resignation in De Niro's portrayal of Hale as he realize how useless Ernest (and really, just about every other of his minions) is. Ernest is a useful idiot, until he ceases to be.

More of an issue is the decision to abandon Mollie's internal dialogue ("It does not do to talk to this man") as she slips further into sickness, with the focus shifting to DiCaprio, De Niro and the efforts of the Bureau of Investigation. For a movie that spends so much time moving the pieces into position, the culmination is strangely anticlimactic (though Scorsese does love to whip-pan to De Niro sitting in a courtroom).

In the end, we're forced to ask: does Ernest truly not get it? A hundred years removed from these events it's almost hard to imagine someone reconciling their criminal actions with professed love for their First Nation spouse. Or Hale's belief that the benefits he provides the Osage justifies murdering them. Racism is both overt and matter-of-fact (dinner table and Klan parade), made even more depressing by how little has changed.

And Scorsese knows this. Killers of the Flower Moon is nothing less than indictment of America itself, and the Osage murders in turn-of-the-century Oklahoma are less the culmination of our belief in Manifest Destiny than a single point on a continuum of oppression and violence so ingrained that only the most stupid and egregious in their guilt pay any kind of penalty. Remember: these were white men who married Osage women to get their oil rights and also appointed "guardians" to these same Osage to determine how that money was distributed.

But...it's gorgeously shot? Sumptuous landscapes, indulgent transitions, lingering close-ups, and Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography punctuated by Robbie Robertson's haunting score. Gladstone is as good as you've heard, the weight of everything that's befallen her and her people apparent in her performance. Killers of the Flower Moon is unlike anything Scorsese has done before, with all that entails.

Now Answer The Real Middle-Aged White Guy Question: In the battle of Americana singers turned actor, Sturgill Simpson's ex-bronc buster edges out Jason Isbell's noble husband.

Killers of the Flower Moon is in theaters today.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar