Up until very recently, I didn’t consider myself a huge Martin Scorsese fan, with the only film of his I really considered a masterpiece being Taxi Driver. For some reason, his characteristic style never fully clicked with me, resulting in my dismissal of many releases like The Irishman as “not really my thing”. However, after seeing Killers of the Flower Moon, I am strongly reconsidering my views on his filmography. Strangely enough, this western period drama reminded me strongly of his most famous gangster movies despite the two epochs being so far apart conceptually, but the film utilised the gangster-movie style within its own context to a refreshingly exciting effect.
The most attention grabbing and marketable strength of this film is easily the main cast, notably two of Scorsese’s foremost collaborators Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, who star opposite each other. Their performances were, of course, amazing, with De Niro exhibiting an eerily calm and calculated countenance, and DiCaprio displaying some incredibly impressive emotional outbursts. This is not anything new, however. When considering actors of such a standard, it is almost a given that they will bring a great depth of skill and experience to any role. For me the real standout performance was neither De Niro nor DiCaprio, but Lily Gladstone, who plays Molly. From her first scene there is a subtlety in her expression that conveys perfectly the emotional beats of Molly’s story. I find that the performances that often strike me as the most powerful are not those in which an actor is loud and expressive (though many see performances like this, such as Hugh Jackman in Prisoners, as the paramount example of ‘good acting’). Rather, the actors who quietly construct characters are much more interesting to me personally, and Lily Gladstone is a perfect example of this.
For me the real standout performance was neither De Niro nor DiCaprio, but Lily Gladstone, who plays Molly. From her first scene there is a subtlety in her expression that conveys perfectly the emotional beats of Molly’s story.
One detail of the film which may not be so marketable, however, is the three-and-a-half-hour runtime. Whatever your personal view on film length, it is undeniable that a film of this length is seldom seen in cinemas in the modern day. I don’t tend to view long runtimes as a negative, but I would absolutely sympathise with someone who had the criticism that this film did not need to be three and half hours long—it is a difficult feat to keep an audience invested in a story for such a length of time, and directors run the very possible risk of scenes feeling “dragged out”. That being said, I believe Martin Scorsese remarkably pulled it off. The beginning hook of the story is engaging, and the scenes maintain their momentum all the way through the middle, leading up to an ending which leaves you on the edge of your seat.
The beginning hook of the story is engaging, and the scenes maintain their momentum all the way through the middle, leading up to an ending which leaves you on the edge of your seat.
The more I consider it, the more I think this mastery of pacing is the greatest testament to Scorsese’s talent as a director. The fact that you can be engaged with the story, without fully knowing why you are so engaged, is an effect that can only be achieved through the decades upon decades of experience Scorsese has. Perhaps the reason why I was never captivated by some of his films in the past is because this craftsmanship is at times less obvious than with other filmmakers and can easily go unnoticed. However, if you dig into the mechanics of the film, it becomes apparent that miniscule details like shot length and dialogue pacing are all orchestrated by the director, and compound to create a product which is perfectly sculpted into an outstanding film.