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Monday, December 4, 2023

Killers Of The Flower Moon Review: Scorsese’s Powerful Anti-Colonial Punch

Killers Of The Flower Moon marks Martin Scorcese’s 26th venture. Across all his works, he has reflected on dynasties and the societal underbelly. Through his exquisite appeal, the filmmaker has never shone away from exhibiting hard-hitting realism. Having played recently at the BFI London Film Festival, the picture is now set for a general release.

The premise is based in early 1920s Oklahoma, the discovery of large oil deposits made the Osage Nation incomparably wealthy, and the target of white greed. As such, it centres on a series of murders in the Osage Nation, committed after oil was discovered on tribal land. Based on the best-selling book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, David Grann presents a detailed account of the lawmen who uncovered this reign of terror. Subjects like Anti-colonialism and oppression are major discourses in the world right now, making this all the more relevant.

For the screen adaptation, the filmmaker and co-writer Eric Roth switched focus to the protagonists of this story, exploring this brutal moment of 20th-century American history through the lives of indigenous woman Mollie (Lily Gladstone) and her white husband, a war veteran, Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) who willingly does the criminal bidding of his nefarious uncle William King Hale (Robert De Niro). Despite a staggering length and at times, a stretched screenplay, the writing is well developed.

DiCaprio switches between ease to frustration and fear in a swift, yet smooth way. His internal conflict is showcased effectively through his dialogue delivery and body language. He has portrayed ethically challenged characters before, but this is definitely his most complex yet nuanced portrayal yet. De Niro’s sheer ease is most spine-chilling. His cold-blooded compassion is what makes his antagonistic sketch most sinister. Perhaps the breakthrough performer here, though, is Gladstone. Her character exudes formidability, pride and yet vulnerability. Her soft-toned voice hints at resilience yet the brokenness of trust being destroyed. In fact, an emotional outburst is built up so effectively that one sympathises with her character.

As seen in blockbusters like Goodfellas, Scorcese also adds the perspective of male criminals. Followed by the token male voiceover as a narrator in parts. However here, Hale and Ernest’s characters represent sin, morality and the grey in between.

The power struggles are embedded within the technical aspects. Particularly, character positioning levels. For instance, De Niro as William is either standing or sitting at a focal place, to showcase his power and god complex. This sense of superiority is emphasised further by the corner-wide shots, which do not just fill the canvas, but also make the audience feel like silent witnesses to the ordeal unfolding on screen.

The usage of contrasting colour schemes emphasises the internal conflicts of adapts levels to showcase. The interiors of Hale’s home and his syndicate’s offices are darker in comparison to the exterior greenery where the Native Americans venerated and gathered. This juxtaposition highlights the distinction between the indigenous and versus authoritarian and a false sense of comfort. Ironically, in the opening shot, we see dark-coloured oil coming out of the ground and spilling on the tribe, who rejoice. The bleakness of the oil at the backdrop of brightly coloured valleys foreshadows the impending danger. How this smile is set to change into sadness and tears.

Incredible set creations and costumes perfectly transport us to the 20s. The camera transitions and movements are gradual, allowing the viewer to absorb the atmosphere. Kudos to Rodrigo Prieto’s crisp cinematography which enhances the cinematic appeal of the visuals. There are hardly silent moments in the picture. Throughout, there is either deep guitar or country music. This symbolises the chaos the tribe has faced for many years, which is perhaps why in crucial portions of the film, we hear more gaps of silence. This not only highlights resolution but also a haunting awareness of how the community has not had their voices heard.

Seeing a story like this on such a mainstream level is a need of the hour. As a Hindustani, this subject is definitely very familiar, given the persecution we have faced by foreign conquerors on Indian soil for many years. As a legendary filmmaker, Scorcese has not only created a masterpiece, but he has inspired a movement for us to introspect on how Western civilisation (and still to an extent, continues to) persecute the indigenous tribes.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 (4.5/5 stars)

Killers of The Flower Moon is in cinemas from October 20.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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