Grim face: Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON **1/2 (206 minutes) M
We all love Martin Scorsese, not just for his formidable CV but for championing the old-school values of “true” cinema in an era of mega-sized post-content spectacles that cost hundreds of millions to make and leave nary an impression.
Alas, with his much-anticipated three-and-a-half-hour period drama Killers of the Flower Moon Scorsese falls somewhat short of the high bar he has set for himself and everybody else.
Set in 1920s Oklahoma the story, based loosely on real events, concerns crimes against the Native American Osage people, who got rich from the oil on their land.
Returned soldier Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) arrives in a bustling small town to work for his cheery uncle, politician and businessman William King Hale (Robert De Niro, who also played a “King” for Scorsese in 1983’s The King of Comedy).
As a driver he meets Mollie (Lily Gladstone), a Native American with connections to oil money, whom he falls in love with and marries.
Showing very little moral backbone, Ernest promptly bends to the commands of his uncle, who enjoys making money by organizing the sudden demise of certain Osage people.
There’s really not much more to Killers of the Flower Moon than that, to be brutally honest. It’s basically a tale of insurance and inheritance fraud, told at a leisurely clip over a long stretch.
Performances are strong but never striking. The star presence of DiCaprio and De Niro get solid support, especially from Gladstone and Jesse Plemons, who plays an officer from the newly formed FBI.
Though it never feels like a slog, the film does take its own sweet time with some extraneous scenes going on so long they should be captioned “time for a loo run”.
Scorsese’s direction is most definitely on cruise control here, the cinematic spark of so many of his great works replaced by somewhat sodden pacing with – shocking as it is to note – rather jejune cinematography and unadventurous editing.
It’s not dull, exactly, just placid, and given the running time it is a demanding sit.
With Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street and GoodFellas Scorsese proved to be an unmatched master is making long films sweep forward with verve and style.
Alas, he also showed with such films as Silence, Kundun and – yes – the much loved The Age of Innocence that his direction can also be laboured. That’s more the case here.
And in the face of all the laudatory cries to the contrary, Killers of the Flower Moon is not an epic. It’s a two-part TV movie. Admittedly, a well-directed one, but a TV movie all the same. That’s what it feels like. It’ll obviously be a much more viewer-friendly experience once it hits AppleTV, the streaming platform run by the studio that made the film.
So, why the acclaim?
Scorsese is so loved – and justly so – that the anticipation of any new work brings with it the expectation that it’ll be as great as what has come before.
If it’s not, which is the case here, it’s possible that sheer love for Scorsese can blind some to the evidence that the film unspooling before them veers too close to ordinary too often. That’s just a theory, of course. Could be totally wrong. But it’s possibly the most overrated film of the year.
Wrong, too, could be the rather cynical suggestion that the cinema release is primed to garner quotable quotes and award attention – hello, Oscar! – ahead of its inevitable release into the stream, the platform for which Killers of the Flower Moon seems to have been primarily designed.
Again, probably wrong, but the film’s slow pace and length is unlikely to make it a big crowd puller, let alone see it recoup its reported production budget of – gulp – $US200 million.
Oh, and there’s been a lot of hoo-haa about Killers of the Flower Moon being Martin Scorsese’s first western.
It’s not, neither visually or conceptually. Casino was more of a western, complete with wild frontiers, cowboys, killing, desert plains and big hats.
Killers of the Flower Moon certainly has lots of big hats, but that don’t make it a western.
THE ORIGIN OF EVIL ***1/2 (123 minutes; subtitled) MA
If you’re in the mood for a big, delicious slice of chicanery the captivating slow-burn French mystery drama The Origin of Evil should keep you sweet.
Largely set in a lavish coastal mansion, Laure Calamy (so good ibn Full Time) plays Stéphane, a struggling fish cannery labourer who re-establishes contact with her long lost dad Serge (Jacques Weber), a retired wealthy businessman.
Separated since childhood, they have a touching reunion, only the other family members have suspicions about why Stéphane has suddenly popped up out of nowhere and why asking her to verify her identity is such an issue?
Director Sébastien Marnier plays it very cool, cleverly building some neat twists into a well-mounted traditional family mystery as we slowly learn precisely what is going on, and who is up to what.
The story is built around the collision between the love of family and the love of money, and comes with some knockout surprises and a hot ending. What fun.
OINK **1/2 (72 minutes) PG
It’s always fun to see a touch of subversion in family films, but this stop-motion Dutch treat loads what would otherwise have been a sweet tale about a little girl trying to save her pet pig from the sausage grinder with more pig poop than Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
Streams of the stuff shoots all over the place as Babs, a strict vegetarian in a very progressive household, falls in love with the titular pet pig.
Surprisingly, given the legacy of Babe, the pig has no discernible personality and does nothing more than run, eat and deposit blasts of brown waste matter at the most inopportune moments, usually in sprays that are as inescapable as they are indiscriminate.
On top of this, there are some rather dark themes involved as the effort by an adult to turn the pig into sausages for a competition involves some pretty questionable treatment of children. That it’s a little surprising the film got away with a PG rating might give the film some curio value.
Visually the film is nice, the old-school animation making a welcome change from the digital gleam we are so used to.
It’s also very brief, which is also good.
DISCONNECT ME **1/2 (87 minutes) PG
As a quirky hook for a fairly interesting documentary about the downside of digital culture, filmmaker Alex Lykos locks his smart phone, tablet and laptop into a safe for 30 days to see how, or if, he will survive.
The results are somewhat predictable, with his father’s fury over the other end of a landline being the most amusing consequence.
His experience is reflected by a small pool of interviewees, though he spends too little time with the most interesting subject, a teenage boy who has side-stepped smartphones altogether.
Made with a cheeky, engaging tone, the film stumbles several times as it asks viewers to answer questions and scan QR codes.
Such stuff should be done at the website pointed to at film’s end. The awkward minutes of screen time it eats up could have been better spent with more narration and information.
With its potted history of the evolution of hand-held devices, including laudable mention of the Third World toil that provides the necessary minerals for our devices, Disconnect Me makes for a pleasant, thought-nudging diversion that might just be worth waiting out for until you can watch it on your device.
THE CONFERENCE *** (101 minutes) R
To help you tap into the Halloween spirit comes The Conference, a delightful, enjoyable little Swedish slasher that puts the questionable concept of corporate team-building into a whole new perspective.
On the night before a ground breaking ritual for a giant new mall, the municipal officers from a small town assemble at a remote retreat to bond together as they go over the details of their project, which promises to be an economic boon for the area.
Trouble is, a mysterious person has dressed up as the venture’s mascot and begins having a good ol’ time eliminating the party is a singularly graphic fashion that will keep genre fans grinning.
It’s a very well done serving of slice’n’dice horror-comedy fare that incorporates a few satirical barbs regarding business ethics and how using hard-working people for nefarious advantage can attract a rather graphic form of karma.