Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio sculpt the horror of the American people in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’, a film whose scale is reminiscent of the monuments of New Hollywood, from ‘The Godfather’.
In its rigorous and sober 206 minutes, the new Scorsese, presented Out of Competition at the Cannes Film Festival, studies the murders of members of the Osage Nation in the 1920s.
When it comes to carving its own history, American cinema has tended to follow two parallel paths. The first, the most famous, has been dedicated to immortalizing myths, cleaning up the rough edges of a nation marked, from its origins, by the sign of violence. Referential examples of this current are titles such as ‘The Birth of a Nation’ by DW Griffith (which turned Ku Klux Klan members into heroes) or ‘Stagecoach’ by John Ford, up to ‘Lincoln’ by Steven Spielberg. The second path, the least reputable, has tried to boycott the epic reading of Yankee history, putting the focus on the sordid drives that nest in the heart of a nation that witnesses, day after day, its self-liquidation at the hands of racism, the search for personal gain and the cult of weapons.
In this other cinematographic lineage it would be possible to include titles such as ‘Greed’ by Eric von Stroheim, ‘The Treasure of Sierra Madre’ by John Huston or the dark history classes by Paul Thomas Anderson, especially ‘Wells of Ambition’ and ‘The Master’ . While the film canon has tended to recognize the value of the first route, while forgetting and marginalizing the second, things seem to be changing. The magnificent ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’, the new Martin Scorsese film, could be read as proof of a possible paradigm shiftin which the Mount Rushmore of Yankee cinema, historically occupied by pro-government and edifying cinema, would be conquered by bastard films.
Yes, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ has something of a bastard work. His gritty look at the Reign of Terror lived by the Osage Nation, made up of Native Americans, in the 1920s, is hardly equaled in the history of American cinema, or in the work of Martin Scorsese himself. Without completely renouncing its formal hallmarks –the enveloping work of mise-en-scène and frenetic editing–, Scorsese carries out in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ a dazzling exercise in stylistic purification, which takes any audiovisual flourish ahead. There is no place for decorative preciousness in a film that dispenses with irony and satire to dissect, with a steady hand and extreme detail, the plague of murders suffered by the Osage Nation at the hands of a troupe of white men willing to do anything to rob Native Americans of rights to their oil-drenched lands.
The numerous scenes of executions of Osage men and women are filmed by Scorsese in long shot. No devilish close-up tracking shots, hardly any slow motion, no frozen image with which to turn a gesture into a grotesque grimace. Giving up nostalgia and glamor, Scorsese embraces frank writing, direct, but not necessarily concise. Determined to arm himself with arguments in his denunciation of historical barbarism, Scorsese has no problem depicting the execution of a Native American twice, first through crude oral testimony, in the context of a trial, and then through one of those terrifying, stripped-down wide shots.
The magnetism of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ –a film whose scale is reminiscent of the monuments of New Hollywood, from ‘The Godfather’ to ‘Heaven’s Gate’– largely depends on the fascination aroused by the characters of Ernest and Mollie Burkhast. A cautious and measured Osage, she is turned by Scorsese and actress Lily Gladstone into a temple of serene dignity. Presented as an indigenous sphinx, the character hides under her laconicism a storm of indignation and love. The object of her affection is her husband, Ernest, a dim-witted guy, a veteran of World War I without stripes, who allows himself to be manipulated by his uncle, William Hale, a hypocritical and greedy monster who, after a patina of benefactor, hides a ruthless murderer. Hale is played by Robert De Niro, who makes use of the most histrionic side of his repertoire, the one that has marked his career since the success of the saga of ‘Ella’s parents’.
For his part, Di Caprio, in the role of his life, is in charge of unfolding the most complex dimension of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. whatCan an ignorant wimp become aware of the tragic dimension of his actions? Is it possible that the border between stupidity, evil and the ability to love is more tenuous than we want to imagine? Scorsese uses the character of Ernest to peer into the most rotten and intolerant face of the American people, and in a characteristically Pasolinian gesture, he manages to extract a blinding light from the most sinister darkness. ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ is one more proof, one of the highest, of Scorsese’s wisdom, a filmmaker who has repeatedly demonstrated his desire to look into the depths of the human spirit freed from the temptation of moralism. In his new film, that wisdom is united with the rebellious gesture of someone who looks at the past with anger, and works in favor of a more just present and future.
For true crime fans with a true artistic scope
Address: Martin Scorsese Distribution: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Brendan Fraser, John Lithgow, Tantoo Cardinal, Barry Corbin, Pat Healy, Louis Cancelmi, Gary Basaraba, Scott Shepherd, Sturgill Simpson Country: USA Year: 2023 Release date: 20–10-2023 Gender: Thriller. Western. Drama Script: Eric Roth, Martin Scorsese (Book: David Grann) Duration: 206 min.
Synopsis: When oil is discovered in 1920s Oklahoma, under Osage Nation land, its people are murdered one by one until the FBI steps in to solve the crimes.
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