Review: ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ technically sound but emotionally distant

Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple Studios)

It’s more than a little bit ironic that the chief issues director Martin Scorsese’s latest picture, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” suffers ever so slightly from are its third-act contortions and prodigious three-and-a-half-hour length, considering those are the exact same problems directors who work in the superhero genre tend to struggle with in their own multimillion-dollar productions.

Scorsese has been a vocal critic of the domination of superhero inspired fare in theaters, despite the fact he had a producer’s credit on 2019’s “Joker,” a film based on the comic-book villain.

His argument is that super-hero cash grabs make it more difficult for serious directors with more substantial stories to get their films funded. Scorsese isn’t wrong with that assertion. Money follows money in Hollywood.

However, the fact that the budgets of his last two films each soared to the $200 million mark indicates that frugality isn’t at the top of his to-do list when he makes a movie, either. The budget of “Killers of the Flower Moon” could have bankrolled several independent films.

Hypocrisy may be a bit too strong of a word for Scorsese’s disdain for the cinematic favorite flavor of the last two decades, but I’m sure the 80-year-old director’s myopia comes from a place of honesty, or at least as honest of one as you can find in Hollywood.

Scorsese, who wrote the screenplay with Eric Roth based on David Grann’s nonfiction work, is a modern master of cinema. His 50-year career speaks for itself from “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver” to “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “The Departed,” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” All of those movies rate somewhere on most critics’ top 100 list of Hollywood films. Scorsese’s list of accomplishments places him on a select pedestal in the history of American filmmaking.

Unfortunately “Killers of the Flower Moon” like his 2019 film “The Irishman” failed to connect with me emotionally in the way his earlier efforts did. It’s a dark piece of filmmaking that depicts a string of ugly events rather than weaving a story. The movie has a shot-gun effect in more ways than one. Maybe that’s because it stems from Grann’s nonfiction?

Lily Gladstone, Janae Collins, and Jillian Dion in Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple Studios)

Perhaps a leaner, more-focused cut might have helped?

I’ll grant that the movie doesn’t feel as long as it is, but as strange as it sounds, the final hour seemed a bit rushed.

Then again, maybe, my attention span has been rotted by so much candy-coated super-hero junk that I can’t detect greatness?

While I’d argue the movie isn’t among the best of Scorsese’s body of work, it is still very good. Watching Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio work off each other in Oscar-worthy fashion for the first time since “This Boy’s Life” in 1993 is worth the price of admission alone, and Lily Gladstone’s subtle yet strong performance could earn the actress an Oscar nomination if not the statue itself.

The crux of the movie centers around the mysterious murders of Osage Nation oil millionaires in Oklahoma early in the 20th century so the oil rights could eventually fall into the control of De Niro’s character William King Hale, the aging political boss of the area. Hale is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the type who would laugh and slap you on the back with his right hand while stabbing you in the kidneys with the left.

DiCaprio plays Hale’s dimwitted nephew, Ernest, who is home from World War I and in need of a new cause. His uncle gives him one, a dirty one. Ernest becomes a driver for the wealthy Osage and strikes up a relationship with Gladstone’s Mollie, which Hale uses to push forward his bloody grab for money and power.

Jason Isbell in Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple Studios)

Just after Mollie and Ernest marry, prominent Osage tribe members begin to be murdered, including Mollie’s sisters. Mollie becomes ill with diabetes as more Osage lose their lives under mysterious circumstances. The Bureau of Investigation — a precursor of the FBI — sends agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons) in to investigate the murders.

There’s not a bad performance in the film with some nice character work by Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, Jason Isbell, John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser in lesser yet key roles.

The film is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, capturing both the sweeping grandeur of the Oklahoma plains in his wide shots as well as the aching desperation of the characters with closer shots and clever angles. The late Robbie Robertson of The Band wrote the music, which is bold, effective and a bit unexpected.

However, no matter how technically well told this true story of greed, power, and violence is, it still comes off a bit sterile for my taste. I can’t necessarily put my finger on it, but the film lacks a personal touch that is usually found in Scorsese’s work.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is a good movie, but from Scorsese I’ve grown to expect greatness.

(R) 3 hr. 26 min.
Grade: B

New in Local Theaters – Oct. 20, 2023

  • Killers of the Flower Moon (R) 3 hr. 26 min. (trailer)
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight)
  • Butcher’s Crossing (R) 1 hr. 45 min. (trailer)
    (Malco Razorback)
  • Leo: Bloody Sweet (NR) 2 hr. 39 min. (trailer)
    (AMC Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)
  • Pratikshya (PG) 2 hr. 17 min. (trailer)
    (AMC Fiesta Square)
  • Bhagavanth Kesari (NR) 2 hr. 27 min. (trailer)
    (Malco Pinnacle)

The Birds – Malco Theaters

For me, “The Birds” is a perplexing minor classic in director Alfred Hitchcock’s portfolio of suspense and horrors, but nonetheless it certainly is a creepy classic.

Starring Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren in her screen debut along with Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, and Veronica Cartwright, the film’s cast is outstanding. However, the movie is wonky and foreboding as swarms of birds overtake the coastal town of Bodega Bay.

The lack of an explanation for why the birds are swarming is purposefully irritating as suspense master Hitchcock creates an odd atmosphere for horror set against an otherwise mundane setting.The movie is not all that scary — even with its multitude of avian attacks. But I will warn you to watch out for the attic scene.

The film is awfully disturbing and frustrating as it seems that nature, itself, is turning on our characters who are otherwise involved in a mundane soap opera-ish story.

To his credit, Hitchcock masterfully builds tension throughout the film by stoking the viewer’s frustration right up until the movie drifts to a close with the mystery of what is happening with the birds left hanging as our surviving heroes attempt to escape the area.

“The Birds” will never rate among my favorite horror flicks, but if you consider yourself a movie buff, it’s a film that you need to experience, and there is no better way to do it than on the big screen.

“The Birds plays at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Malco Razorback and Malco Pinnacle theaters.

The Nightmare Before Christmas – Malco Theaters

It’s always a debate in my mind whether “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a Halloween movie or a Christmas film?

I think you could argue successfully either way with this 1993 stop-motion classic that was produced by Tim Burton and directed by Henry Selick from Burton’s original story and character designs.

Jack Skellington the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown feels a bit melancholy as Halloween night dissolves into November.

Wandering through the woods, Jack discovers various trees marked for different holidays that act as portals into dimensions that are governed by a particular holiday. While examining them, Jack stumbles through the Christmas portal, and the cheerful nature of the environs so warm his heart that he decides Halloweentown should work to improve Christmas.

The film is dark fun as it works to compare and contrast the trappings of the two holidays that mean so much to children and those who remain young at heart.

Lavishly animated with an outstandingly creepy score and songs by composer Danny Elfman, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a must watch each season for many Christmas and Halloween aficionados alike. The movie can be streamed on Disney + and bevy of other outlets, but the movie is a dynamic and gorgeous treat to view once again on the big screen.

The film is showing this week at the Malco Razorback as well as Malco Rogers Towne.

Back to the Future – AMC Fiesta Square

“Back to the Future,” the time-traveling classic that made a big-screen star out of popular TV actor Micheal J. Fox, was the highest grossing movie in theaters in 1985. It returns to the AMC Fiesta Square theater for a special one-time showing at 7 p.m. Saturday night.

Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis the film stands as one of the most popular and best movies concerning time travel as Fox’s Marty McFly is whisked back 30 years in time where he meets his parents when they were teenagers and hilarity and hijinks occur.

As charming as Fox is in the role as McFly, Christopher Lloyd is perhaps even more memorable as the kooky “Doc” Brown, the mad scientist who discovers time travel and powers his time machine with plutonium that he bilked from Libyan terrorists. Lea Thompson co-stars as Lorraine, Marty’s mom, who develops a crush on McFly when he travels back to 1955.

The film’s climax is thrilling as Marty and Doc Brown race against time to return Marty and the time-traveling DeLorean back to 1985 without doing too much damage to the space-time continuum.

Back in the day, the film’s epilogue was a huge surprise that set up the next two films in the trilogy. Those films are fun, too, but neither quite recaptured the magic of the original.