Killers Of The Flower Moon – Scorsese’s Genre defining masterpiece

Leonardo DiCaprio und Lily Gladstone in „Killers of the Flower Moon“, now on Apple TV+.

The fate of any western made after 1969 is self reflection. Self reflection of a genre that by definition too reflects on American history, its deep rooted sins and how they perpetuate in the present. 
Clint Eastwood’s 1992 picture “unforgiven” considered by genre fanatics to be a point of self reflection for not only the genre but Eastwood himself, looks upon the fate of America and its individuals as one that was corrupted by greed and murder, yet it is important to note that Eastwood maintained sympathy for a man facing his dark sins, therefore making the picture, more self reflective than strictly judgmental. As John Wayne morphed from the young and carefree inspiring figure of stagecoach, into the benevolent father figure of “ She wore a yellow ribbon” and eventually Ford’s supposed own point of self reflection “the searchers” with a dark and obsessive composure, Eastwood himself was dared to question his patriotic placement in an America that, even during its older days, was fed up with itself.Much is speculated if Ford intended the searchers and other of his films to be a shift in his perception of the United States, Many people reflect on eastwoods dark and twisted morality contained in unforgiven, but where there is no room for speculation is within Martin’s Scorsese’s own western KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. For if there was any doubt flower moon is not a point of privileged self reflection for white Americans, but one of sharp and judgmental critique, Scorsese pushes you so hard against the wall to be sure there is no other room for your empathy to be directed towards. 
Wolf Of Wall Street’s societal and economical despair is present, this time with a sharper tone of assertive action as Marty forces you to spend as much time with gruesomely evil and stupid characters as possible, and much like those in privileged positions of self reflection, they can be quite charming. 
Killers Of The Flower moon as previously mentioned is as much of a self reception as any other western made anytime within the 70s on. What tells Flower Moon apart is its sense of affirmative action, historical knowledge, and astute visual literacy and editing choices to show the entire landscape of the REAL morality of the American machine, one that, even whilst presented on a period piece, is direct enough to be easily adaptable to today’s time. For after all, what we see here is what perpetuates in American industry. Scorsese’s gritty realism isn’t tangible because of the contrasting violence like the spaghetti western of Corbucci, it is gritty and realistic for the cycles of economical control, abuse, and theft are way too close for comfort.The illustrious long takes usually showcase rhetoric white Americans, depicting excess and varied amounts of information at once, while the Indians are presented in still, black and white photos, cemented in time with a much simpler and still, almost indifferent showcase. It’s as if for the white Americans what is captured is the industrial progress, and for the Indians it’s their own wisdom, stillness and spirit.The shots showcasing white Americans are a plethora of Scorsese’s previous work devoting America in all of its shiny excess. Meanwhile, whilst showcasing nature and the way of life of the Indians, he’s contemplative, spiritual, much more reminiscent of his work in 2016’s  “Silence”. Scorsese is at a point in his career where much like in the Irishman, he’s reflecting of his own contribution to the earth. 
 Leo: Aren’t you gonna get a bite of this? 
Lily: Too Much Sugar

If there’s a line that perfectly reflect the textual approach of the direction, that would be the one. 
This entire scene as a matter of fact encompasses the entire dynamic of the picture. 

“Just be still” 

Scorsese, highly influenced by Anthony Mann western’s in the approach to the writing and still photography, leaves the camera to hang plenty of times as intricacy is displayed through deep and yet easily associative psychological character work (much credit must of course be given to DeNiro, DiCaprio, and Lily who were clearly directed with astute decency to be able to walk the paths ways Mann put the likes of Gary Cooper on).  
Wide shots contrast both the emptiness of the vast wilderness and its free land. It’s farms and later on industries. America is a country brought up on lies, sin, and dishonesty, a characteristic its patriotism kept alive to this day. 

“I love money. I love money, turn that card over” 

The dialogue relishes on Scorsese’s judgmental sarcasm and revolt. The “eye of God” shot so famous of Scorsese’s repertoire that before was used to depict despicable acts of humanity is now used to depict a much common thing in our society: Money. As they bet, expensive stolen items and large amounts of cash are watched from above as the white Americans indulge in their own abundant ignorance and dishonesty. 
Purposefully, the character of Ernest (what a name) is perhaps the most captivating choice for a lead. A cowboy hat he is given almost doesn’t fit him. A name that doesn’t fit him. He himself feels uncomfortable in the idealized role of the western cowboy as he awkwardly replies to his future wife, reluctantly taking place as the baboon pushover that he is. 
Leo’s incompetence is the dynamic of whites and Indians. He’s a lying sweet talker much like his uncle, a coyote, but don’t be mistaken for he is no wolf. 

“He’s the king of the Osage Hills, he’s the nicest man in the world”.

William Hale is a banker. I don’t think anything else needs to be said to describe his character besides that. His incompetent relative is put in positions of power in favor of growing his empire of manipulation. 
Deniro’s narcissism is as subtle as it is intruding. His characterization and psychology perhaps make him the most conventionally Anthony Mann character writing in the picture. His unrelenting praise of the natives contrasting the death of an innocent man showcases the performative nature of these men. He is a businessman who sees everything as valuable ownership. To say that it is timeless, would be doing a disservice. 

The cinematography bears high contrast color correction and a rich yet restrained color pallid. It appears there’s always darkness lurking the image. The production design carries a tint that perfectly merges with its environments all the while highlighting important aspects of characters, for during a scene where Molly is asked to be a wife, Leo’s hair may merge with the top of the car, however his eyes shine as bright as ever in the dark blue of the afternoon sky. 

“One light and one Dark. It’s like an Eclipse. Then the Lord put his hand over the earth for nothing”.

What frames villains and heroes in a picture? Plenty would say it’s a still moral line and if certain characters act certain ways, it by definition constitutes them as the villain of the picture. In a certain way that statement is correct, however a film is an exchange of ideas, and what will define the experience is how characters are framed to the audience, which beyond even their actions, will define the moral dynamics of the picture as it goes on. 
Scorsese makes murders not as a grand of an event like his 90s outlook, neither does he assess industrial relations to such murders as a hyperbolic attachment to humanity like there will be blood. Marty’s narrative is much more subtle, substantial, and concrete. He gives you what any western would, a white, morally conflicted cowboy under a varied amount of circumstances, and that character is the one the audience is the closest to. What makes Flower Moon legitimately DIFFERENT in its narrative is that the picture neither sugar coats or fetishizes evilness or greed to a point where it is entertaining. Like previously mentioned, this is no picture of white self reflection, this is a western where all the curtains have been taken away, therefore leaving us with the usual framing, alongside a depiction that couldn’t be more realistic. The picture in that way, works as a perfect response to his own Wolf of Wall Street and its awfully terrifying reception in the public eye. A picture that now has its absurdity used as marketing for things it so dearly feared. It’s as if Scorsese learned from it and with that revolt, resisted any form of fetishized narrative indulgence. In Killers Of The Flower Moon the threat don’t come out of crazy Indians neither does it come from other armed men, it comes from high prices and words of comfort. 

“Same Bill Smith… two sisters” 

A mystery runs through killers of the flower moon with flashbacks and montages that accompany and incredibly riveting score that is never not used with class. The reveal of Anna’s pregnancy comes as a surprise to the audience and characters as we are all left wondering if they will all feel the same transgression as us. The sound mixing continues such piece of information with continuous repetition in the editing to tie together the sharing of information. Suddenly a situation that was being investigated has now been developed so much that you’re left in genuine wonder but certainly without any moral conflict. 
This direct approach towards large amounts of information have a much sharper progression than the Irishman, and while not as energetic as previous work it certainly is appropriately timed and edited. 

“I just Love Money. I damn near Love it as much as I love my wife” 

For as bad as he is, Earnest’s love is well… Earnest. Perhaps his uncle didn’t account that his stupidity and innocence would amount for him developing genuine care for the woman that was meant to be a gateway to land. Scenes are spent with genuine chemistry and a sense of young life between the two, which makes the unapologetically bathed in greed scenes that involve Earnest without her even more jarring, and from that comes the emotional conflict of the picture: Can you trust the words and acts of love Earnest puts forward after seeing where him being this much of a pushover can lead him? How much guilt shall he carry if his biggest somewhat deliberate sin is being entirely seduced by money? Perhaps in a picture reflecting of aggressors we’d get that answer, but Scorsese’s western is no reflection, it’s an assertive revolt to the reality of things.   

“Can you spot the wolves in this picture?” 

The visual literacy of the picture is immaculate. Medium shots bathed in indifference depict minimal figures of a businessman in amidst the empty room that later evolves to the same composition now filled with businessmen that taint the image with the contrasting black of their suits. The difference in clothes of Earnest’s first time there with his uncle, where he essentially has to put his nephew on a leash away from what he feels and engulfed in capital ownership. When this composition happens it’s rather unsettling for the pretension of normality alone that it conveys sets up unsettling possibilities. It’s as if the businessmen try their best to merge with the image, standing still in the medium shot with minimum movement, trying their best to not seem like the threat that they most certainly are. 
Scorsese maintains a simple progression of close up’s during conversations and usually saves establishing shots before scenes for more unexpected times. In amidst conversations you’ll rarely get a disruption of composition and editing also, he wants you to feel safe and as if everything is cohesive, and that’s when the subtler changes and variations of such end up having much more of a substantial effect on its audience. The scenes that follow, with Earnest adopting a much more directly harmful approach towards his wife are an example of such. He feels the pressure his uncle put on him and is too much of a pushover to go against it, as a matter of fact his uncle pushes him so much that he ends up running over his own wife with racist assertions and an embellishment of cultural differences, framing the white mans way as a much more efficient way of living, a belief his ignorant self certainly held regardless of pressure. 
The still frames, lighting and patient editing choices make for a potent experience comparable only to Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon”. The picture has still frames that much like Kubrick’s masterpiece perfectly display dynamics in something as comparably striking only to actual paintings. 

“There’s lots of fellas with hats”

The last hour and thirty of killers of the flower moon is pure and agonizing emotional turmoil. Scenes can reach a near apocalyptic tone. Earnest is even more separated from the audience than he’s always been and every-time his face comes on the frame you’d think you’re staring at a vulture or a coyote. Molly’s “illness” progression constantly raises the stakes of things as her well composed figure falls due to emotional and physical manipulation. Molly’s character in the picture is near superhuman, in stark contrast to Earnest and William Hale who, under the sight of any inconvenience completely break in nervousness and incompetence. A fascinating aspect of it is that in this last hour and a half, the man who passively demanded be called king, start to remind you of Earnest’s cowardice and incompetence more and more. It’s also important to note that by this point on, Gladstone’s performance never fails to steal the show even from my favorite actor of all time Robert DeNiro in one of the best performances of his career. As morality begins to weigh in on Earnest who has flies over him like a pile of shit he is, Molly’s emotional range is expanded alongside things starting to come back around. 

On the last minutes, Flower Moon slows down and lets Molly and Earnest’s tarnished relationship define what before took center stage like any other Anthony Mann western would have. Molly’s heart breaks at the persistence Earnest has once pushed once again against her, the tragedy of it comes from the door being open to forgiveness, and it all being left on the hand of change. Earnest, in a similar position to Jake in raging bull, taken by lament, now calls his uncle bill instead of king, taking his first and only in the film, affirmative and personal decision, for before this Earnest was a man taken by greed with no values, and a man with no values, can be bought by anything. Although this serves as no absolute sentimentality beyond mentioned regret, it does represent the lingering depth of the psychology within the picture. 
The last piece of dialogue in court, on a single take of Earnest, being forced to be courageous, is nothing short of perfection. Even though we don’t cut away, the simple use of dialogue and DiCaprio’s performance make for the psychological nature of the film to wash over you with ease (much like the end of an Anthony Mann picture) and leading to the finale. The camera itself interrogates him, in perhaps the first moment of Earnest being fully Earnest. 
The scene that follows is as heartbreaking as it is satisfying. Each second longer each shot holds, is a harder and more complex emotion to process. 

In its incredible last scene, Scorsese directly addresses the film’s realism by coming out himself and reading out the real and yet honorable passing of Molly, a benefit those who lived for greed didn’t receive. For while the people who lived for money were represented in a play with their outcomes being simply American entertainment, Molly, much like the Osage who were framed in pictures, maintain their spirit free and reputation in tact, and representation in the picture itself, much, and much truer than fiction. 

Killers Of The Flower Moon is a picture with a societal focus and point, that whilst not indulging in the reflection of its white characters like its predecessors, still asserts with such depth and complex psychology comparable only to Anthony Mann westerns. Marty perfectly balances his own point in the western genre but never sacrifices character depth to make such commitment, instead choosing to use his cinematic influences to assert what it needed. Its lighting, editing and color correction is as perfect as Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. This is a picture that’s heartbreaking, a picture that’s historical, respectful, and most of all: innovative. For Scorsese’s addition to the decades long conversation within the western genre may be a late one, but it certainly is one as important and substantial as the one pointed out when John Ford released The Searchers. This is everything I could ever hope out of a Martin Scorsese western. It’s a revolution, certainly the best film of the 2020s, and, much like The Irishman, perhaps even more so, one of the most important films ever made. I couldn’t feel prouder to having learned cinema from him. This long into his career, and only now making his most important motion picture.

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