It wasn’t “one and done” when the west was won, and a new 1920s-set historical drama unfurls across the Oklahoma terrain with an operatic ferocity exposing an underbelly of unholy history repeating. Director Martin Scorsese divines American tragedy in an epic morality tale about how greed conquers goodness in Killers of the Flower Moon (B+), bringing his thoughtful themes, genius lensing and sometimes uneven take on how white capitalists endeavored to wipe out the oil-rich Osage Indians by infiltrating their families and stealthily silencing or assassinating those blocking them from bounty to which they feel entitled. Scorsese protracts his story through a hefty running time and across the landscape of a handsome production design to show how a simmering cauldron of corruption takes root and manifests. Two of the directors’ lifelong muses Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro play the Everyman turned unwitting criminal and his cattle baron uncle and mob puppeteer (fittingly named King), respectively, and it’s powerful work from both talented actors. In a quiet, soulful and often sidelined performance, Lily Gladstone plays the woman capable of standing in the way of their toxic machinations; it seems like a missed opportunity to have not brought her front and center more often, nor was it completely clear when or if she was privy to the men’s schemes. The film is strongest in its quiet and graceful sequences of trouble seeping its way into frontier paradise, and the story and pacing are slightly askew and rushed in presenting crime drama tropes about the nascent FBI. Even some of the set pieces of jails and courthouses paled in comparison to the first and second act’s ornate boomtown aesthetic. The music by the late Robbie Robertson is a standout throughout. Several choices detracted from the central story and themes; you’ll know them when you see them. But it’s still a stirring work well suited to its perpetually pensive and powerhouse auteur.
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