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  • Robert Farago

Killers of the Flower Moon Sucks

Martin Scorsese loses the plot

Somewhere inside Killers of the Flower Moon is an excellent Kevin Costner movie trying to get out. By all accounts, that’s how the script landed on Martin Scorsese’s desk.

The newly-formed FBI dispatches a former Texas Ranger to the wilds of Oklahoma to solve the murders of oil-rich Osage tribe members. The G-man sends the culprits to prison, establishing the FBI’s rep.

True story! Better than the one the director cooked-up.

At Scorsese’s behest, the script writers focus Killers of the Flower Moon entirely on Ernest Burkhart, nephew of William Hale, portrayed as the chief architect of the Osage murders.

The words “wrong answer” don’t begin to cover it.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Burkhart earnestly AF, but the character is loathsome on every level: stupid, lazy, deceitful, amoral, weak and venal. And those are just his good points.

In case we couldn’t guess what would motivate such an asshole to kill his own wife, her two sisters and his mother-in-law, Burkhart states his motivation not once but twice. “I just love money!” he beams moronically.

Mr. Scorsese has blessed cinema with some of cinema’s greatest villains: Frank Costello (The Departed), Bill the Butcher (Gangs of New York), Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver). Max Cady (Cape Fear) and Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas).

“Scorsese's villains are more complex than the average movie bad guys,” asserts, “often possessing admirable or relatable qualities.”

Not here. I couldn’t give a flying fuck what happens to Burkhart. His only redeeming quality: his concern for the children of the woman he’s slowly poisoning.

Watching DiCaprio emote as Burkhart is a boring ordeal. Watching De Niro play Burkhart’s uncle William Hale, orchestrating the Osage murders for oil money, is only marginally more entertaining.

De Niro’s Hale is a reprise of the nebbish Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy – a loser who thinks he’s a winner. Don’t let the picture above fool you. There’s no animus, no low animal cunning, no self-awareness, no hatred, no oomph in Hale.

Right from the git-go, we’re shown that Hale’s hold over Burkhart is down to the simple fact that Burkhart is an idiot.

To say there’s no chemistry in DiCaprio and De Nitro’s scenes together is like saying the Osage were victims of racist white men’s greed. Which they certainly were.

As you’d expect in these PC times of ours, presenting the Osage as noble victims is the order of the day.

This includes a repudiation of their own riches by the tribe’s elders, various documentary-style scenes of Osage rituals and large chunks of dialogue in their native tongue.

Lily Gladstone wears this mantle as Burkhart’s saintly Osage wife Mollie. She wears it well. But remove her halo and Mollie Burkhart’s love for her dickhead husband – as her family is killed one-by-one – is inexplicable.

In her first scenes with DiCaprio, Gladstone’s Mollie is nobody’s fool. She’s smart, tough and worldly-wise. Clearly Burkhart’s match. By the middle of this three-and-a-half hour slog, Mollie’s her husband’s complete fool.

We’re supposed to believe she’s blinded by love. Love shared by the man slowly sending her off to Spirit Land. Yeah, no.

Somewhere near the end of this beautifully shot but tiresome movie, Kevin Costner finally arrives. I mean Federal Agent Tom White.

While there’s satisfaction to be had seeing justice done, Jesse Plemons sleepwalks through the role. He has only slightly more Texas Ranger in him than Pee-wee Herman.

Killers of the Flower Moon slowly grinds to a halt. We get a courtroom scene designed to further reanimate Brendan Fraser’s career and a scene where Burkhart fails to come clean to this wife. Now there’s a surprise.

Killers finishes with a historically accurate reproduction of radio actors performing a “where are they now?” summation. A scene that jars in its off-hand nature, complete with comical sound-effects.

Scorsese appears as a narrator, to tell us what happened to Mollie Burkhart. An acknowledgement that Mollie is the only character the audience gave a shit about.

To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, character is plot. Killers of the Flower Moon’s central characters have no character. So the movie doesn’t have a plot. Not a compelling one, anyway.

Killers of the Flower Moon should have been created in its original who dunnit? form. Or a documentary with reenactments. Instead, it’s a missed opportunity on a grand scale. Great cars, though.

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