by Victoria Alexander
Scorsese intentionally strips the film of any traces of his style. It appears that DiCaprio structured his performance to show his character suffered being evil. The film’s length should be praised instead of criticized.
I want to mention the terrific log lines on movie posters: NAPOLEON: He Came From Nothing, He Conquered Everything; THANKSGIVING: There Will Be No Leftovers; and THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES: Everyone Hungers For Something.
The masterful KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON begins without explaining what happened in a focused way. Piecing it together without exposition, the U.S. government moved the Osage Nation from their ancestral land to Fairfax, Oklahoma. Shockingly, the discovery of oil made them the richest people in the country. And with oil, comes ruthless men quick to find a way to exploit the situation.
Firstly, I would like to give my opinion on the much-criticized film’s length. Imagine complaining to Picasso that Guernica was too big or telling Rembrandt to make smaller paintings so more people could buy them? Or ask Shakespeare to cut 20 minutes out of King Lear because it’s too long?
The machinations are already in place when World War I veteran Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) arrives at his uncle William “King” Hale’s (Robert De Niro) cattle ranch. King has been around for a long time, speaks the native language and holds a respectful status in the town. He is everybody’s kind savior. He has plans for his nephew and does not expect Ernest to work on the ranch. He wants Ernest to marry any Osage woman.
Ernest begins driving one particular Osage woman around. The discovery of oil has brought extraordinary wealth to the town. The Osage natives now have white servants, glamor and every extravagance they never knew they needed. Yet, this wealth has brought about a well-organized structure: high prices, insurance on native’s debts, alcoholism, and white men looking to profit off the innocence of the Osage people.
King’s clever purpose is to have Ernest marry any Osage woman with rich oil resources and gain legal rights to her fortune. At least this is King’s scheme.
Ernest arrives without a moral code. With some friends, they brutally rob a rich couple of money and jewelry that he immediately gambles away. We know he will help engineer King’s plan without guilt.
Where are the Osage men? The young women know the white man’s strategy but seem more amused than furious. They gather and willingly appraise the attributes of the young white men as suitable for marriage. It seems to be a life of privilege, and no one works handling cattle and building oil rigs.
Quickly Ernest meets Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), who knows the selfish game afoot but goes along. His sincere interest in her works. She is quietly reserved and seems far more intelligent than Ernest.
Why would the Osage women marry white men who do not speak their language and do not know their culture and customs? What do these young women gain?
Mollie’s family consists of her mother and three sisters. If Mollie’s relatives die, their wealth transfers to Mollie, and then, logically, to her husband if she marries. Her mother does not approve of her daughters marrying white men.
Mollie knows the white men are coming for brides - not jobs - and yet she falls in love with Ernest.
Soon after their marriage her mother dies and then each of Mollie’s sisters die under odd circumstances. Mollie and Ernest acquire their wealth.
The introduction of sugar into the Osage nation has brought about the plague of diabetes. After several years of indulging in the vice of sugar, Mollie already has the disease when she meets Ernest. After they marry her disease progresses. Ernest finds two doctors who have the new treatment: insulin. Mollie is only one of five people in the country rich enough to afford insulin. Even though Ernest loves Mollie, he starts poisoning his wife with tainted insulin. He watches as she bears his children and starts to painfully and slowly die.
The murders of Mollie’s sisters are ridiculously deemed “suicides” and she hires a private detective to look into the deaths. Mollie has an inner strength and defiant character that Ernest cannot control. The detective is savagely beaten, and the Osage elders go to Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. Mollie goes with them. They pay an enormous price to publicize the crimes.
F.B.I. head J. Edgar Hoover, steps in and sends former Texas Ranger, Tom White (Jesse Plemons), to investigate the sloppily arranged murders.
King has tasked Ernest with finding the murderers, thus considers himself the “silent” provocateur. Ernest fails to find expert killers and soon confessions are made. Ernest confronts one of the murderers and has no choice but to confess his part in the crimes. He must testify against King in open court.
Ernest is a despicable character, so to soften him, DiCaprio always has a pained expression on his face. He takes no pleasure in committing the crimes and suffers as he watches his wife slowly dying. This places the audience in a difficult position: we don’t hate him because, and this is crucial, he never shows joy in what he is doing. Ernest is never shown profiting from his crimes. The only thing that shows his wealth is the fancy hat Mollie gives him before they even kiss.
I must address the film’s length. The richness of the film’s production is terrific. We are not merely shown what happens but given a more inclusive understanding of the culture, the crimes and a bold look at a marriage turning corrupt. The film’s length was not obvious and went by unnoticed.
Scorsese delivers and never cheats his audiences with casual filmmaking. If you love films, you will understand. I want to see the four-hour version. I want to see all the artistry a filmmaker like Scorsese offers. Wouldn’t you love to see what was filmed but left out of ALIEN, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE or 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY?
Film length depends on your attitude towards creativity. To work on a Scorsese film means you are at the top of your field. He can hire the best. If IMDb.com estimates the budget as $200M, it is all up on the screen. You see the production’s skill.
Most directors film more than is necessary – coverage. Only Alfred Hitchcock filmed absolutely nothing that could be replaced, omitted or removed by a studio. We now have “director’s cuts.” Baz Luhrmann’s 2008 movie, AUSTRALIA, had so much more filmed that he will be releasing a six-episode director’s cut version of the movie titled FARAWAY DOWNS. I want to see the 4 hour CLEOPATRA.
The ALL is Mind; The Universe is Mental.”
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