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Review: 'Killers of the Flower Moon'

Some of the earliest buzz about Killers of the Flower Moon was about its length. Before anyone had seen it, critics were complaining about the fact the running time was just under three and a half hours.

Admittedly, it was yet another movie whose running time seemed unnecessarily long. As of late, filmmakers can’t seem to tell a story in the two hours of time audiences have come to expect over the years.

Occasionally, epic movies like Ben-Hur (1959) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962) ran long, but they were considered prestigious event films. No one seemed to complain. They had intermissions which allowed theatergoers to go to the restroom.

As mentioned, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon runs 3 hours and 26 minutes. Is it long? Yes. Should it have been edited and shortened a bit? In my estimation, yes. Is that a reason not to see it? Absolutely not.

It has been called a masterpiece, perhaps even Scorsese’s best film. You could argue that point. Scorsese has a long list of modern classics like Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) just to name a few of my personal favorites.

Martin Scorsese is a modern master. Killers of the Flower Moon, is at the very least, a deeply personal movie that addresses an ugly chapter of this nation’s history that has been swept under the carpet for far too long. It is yet another tale of the exploitation, mistreatment and outright murder of Native Americans that has started to emerge in recent years in motion pictures like Wind River (2017) and television mini-series offerings like Yellowstone. The horrible truth of the past is finally, slowly and painfully coming to light.

Killers of the Flower Moon tells the story of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma back in the 1920s.

The discovery of oil on their land made them the richest people on earth, per capita. That, in turn, made them the target of ruthless white men who set out on a mission to scheme and rob them of their wealth.

It’s a true, gut-wrenching story of greed and the unspeakable, unconscionable acts that greed can cause people to commit.

Killers of the Flower Moon is based on the non-fiction novel of the same name by David Grann. When Scorsese read it, he was determined to make it into a movie. In many ways it resonates with the theme of some of his classic mob movies. It is about the very darkest side of human nature.

Killers of the Flower Moon is a sobering look at the past that is hard to watch and perhaps harder to believe. It is a dark journey for the story’s main character, Ernest Burkhart, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a young man returning from the battlefields of World War I. He travels west to seek employment and guidance of his uncle, played by Robert De Niro, a successful rancher who is respected and trusted by the Osage people.

Both DiCaprio and De Niro have figured prominently in some of Martin Scorsese's best films. Both are brilliant once again under Scorsese’s direction.

The performances are what you expect from talent like this, on both sides of the camera.

Lily Gladstone’s performance as Burkhart’s Osage love interest, is simple, straightforward and pure. It’s Oscar worthy.

Killers of the Flower Moon deserves Oscar nominations in a grocery list of categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Music (by the late Robbie Robertson, who was one of the founding members of The Band, whose music was immortalized in Scorsese’s acclaimed concert film The Last Waltz back in 1978).

Make no mistake, Killers of the Flower Moon is a brilliant movie, on every level. It’s big, and epic and powerful, despite being arguably a bit long, though the length is forgivable. It is never boring.

Once again, Scorsese creates a detailed, tangible world that is immersive and convincing.

Following the opening credits, you live in Oklahoma in the 1920s for three and a half hours, becoming completely absorbed in the characters and their plight. The story travels along a slippery path that progressively descends into darkness with shocking revelations along the way. It’s emotional. It is not easy to watch. But it is a movie that demands our attention.

There are many things that we can truly be proud of as Americans. Hollywood has done a good job of touting that over the decades. There are also a few things that we should be ashamed of -- things that we should acknowledge, never forget and never repeat. At the top of the list is this nation's heartless treatment of Native Americans.

It’s why serious filmmakers make socially-conscious movies like Killers of the Flower Moon from time to time. They are well worth our attention and three and a half hours of our lives, without a bathroom break.

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