Killers of the Moonflower/Forum Film
Score: Three and a half stars out of five/Walla system!, image processing
Is there anyone in Israel right now who can sit in a dark hall for about three and a half hours and be cut off from the news and the outside world? If you've raised your hand, then you're probably the target audience for "Killers of the Moonflower," Martin Scorsese's new epic that arrived this weekend.
"Killers of the Moonflower" had its world premiere last May at the Cannes Film Festival, when we first wrote about it. The epic went into commercial distribution in the United States about two months ago, and recorded quite disappointing box office achievements - perhaps also as a result of its obligatory and exhausting length, its distribution in Israel was postponed for obvious reasons, but now it is here. Soon the film will also arrive on Apple's streaming service, which produced it.
Based on David Grann's non-fiction book, the film deals with the Osage murders. It is one of the most shocking stories in contemporary American history: the systematic murder of Native Americans that took place in Oklahoma at the beginning of the last century, in an attempt to control the Osage tribe's oil royalties.
Scorsese presents the story through three central characters. Two of them are white: a ruthless businessman played by Robert De Niro, and his easy-to-maneuver nephew, who is discharged from the US Army and immediately joins the army of his uncle, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The third, played by Lily Gladstone, is a member of the Osage tribe, who becomes his partner and therefore also a victim of the discharged soldier.
Who is the target audience? From Killers of the Moon Flower/Cannes Film Festival
"Killers of the Moonflower" isn't Scorsese's longest film — it's 206 minutes, so "The Irishman" is three minutes longer, and if we include documentaries, it had even longer works. However, this is probably his most cynical and critical film.
On the weight of "they shoot horses too", it can be said that in this film they also shoot horses, dogs, women and children. According to the film, white America had one goal. The end was money and the end sanctified the means. "Killers of the Moonflower" presents the history of America as a history laid on three pillars: deception, extermination and theft.
I watched Killers of the Moon Flower twice, which means I've devoted 412 minutes of my life to it, not including what's around it – the line for a screening in Cannes, for example, was as long as the thing itself. The first screening was a positive experience - also for subjective reasons, such as the festive atmosphere on the Riviera around this much-talked-about premiere, or my being an avid follower of the director; And also for objective reasons, such as the fact that this epic presents an almost unimaginably fascinating and shocking story, and summarizes the tragedy through a brilliant and thrilling climax that left me out of the hall dizzy.
By the second viewing, I was immune to this dizziness, and the experience was much less positive. This time, I couldn't ignore the film's weak points.
Two minutes shorter than the Irishman. From Killers of the Moon Flower/Cannes Film Festival
First of all - its length. For the most part, discussions about long films are just as exhausting as long films themselves. After all, an 80-minute movie can be more boring and slower than a 180-minute movie; After all, throughout history, Hollywood has produced never-ending films, and some of them are still considered beloved classics to this day; After all, people sit at home and binge entire seasons of shows whose cumulative length is much longer than Killers of the Moonflower; After all, no one forces us to do anything – not to go to the movie in the first place, not to stay in the theater, so what's the point of babbling about this at all?
Still, the length of "Killers of the Moonflower" managed to get on my nerves - because it has no justification. Why did Scorsese make such a long film? For one reason only - because he can, because no one will say no to a director of his stature, and age. Would Apple have approved the script as it is if the filmmaker's name was Itzik Spitzak? Of course not.
Long films are allowed, even in 2023, and if the spoiled audience has a problem with the concentration threshold, they should patiently. But "Killers of the Moon Flower" gives this kind of work a bad name. On second viewing, it's clear to me that this is an unnecessary insistence, like a government office asking you to fax documents, and what Scorsese is doing here is sending an Encyclopædia Britannica by facsimile. The film does intensify towards a mighty crescendo, but the road there could have been much shorter.
For the first time together in Scorsese's film. De Niro and DiCaprio in Killers of the Moonflower/Forum Film
And there's another problem, which we pointed out immediately after the Cannes screening, and now it's an opportunity to expand on it. In the past two months, American progressiveness has emerged at the height of its hypocrisy, and "Killers of the Moonflower" is another illustration of that. Ostensibly, this is a film that seeks to center the tragedy of the Osage tribe, but in fact the tribesmen are quite marginal in it, mainly playing the roles of corpses.
This marginality is especially evident in the case of Lily Gladstone. She is one of the best actresses in American cinema of recent years, and got to demonstrate her full talent in films such as "Certain Women", "First Cow" and "The Last Dance". Here, too, her expressive face succeeds in expressing the tragedy of the entire story. The problem is that her screen time is relatively low, and her dialogue is even fewer.
True, in cinema you can also speak with body gestures, facial expressions and silence - but why are these always women who have to play pantomime? We also saw this phenomenon in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Rome, for example. "Killers of the Moonflower", despite its liberal pretensions, is no exception.
Who would say no to them? Scorsese with De Niro and DiCaprio at the recent Cannes Film Festival/Getty Images, Lionel Hahn
Despite everything, "Killers of the Moon Flower" is worth our time. Scorsese doesn't just get so much credit, displaying some cinematic brilliance, including ones we haven't seen throughout his long career. De Niro, for his part, proves once again that he is one of the greatest actors of our generation, and also one of their uninhibited - he embodies with uncompromising coolness the embodiment of absolute evil.
It's the first time De Niro has starred alongside DiCaprio since "So I Was" thirty years ago, and the first time they've acted together in a film by Scorsese, a longtime partner of both separately.
De Niro, of course, overshadows DiCaprio, who, unlike him, sins in quite a few papers, and frankly, that, too, is something I only noticed on the second viewing. Either way, the one who at one point steals the show from both of them is Jesse Plemons, the excellent active character actor who plays an FBI agent here, and as usual does so quietly, dedicatedly and with excellence.
Above all, "Killers of the Moonflower" is terribly topical and relevant. Why didn't the Americans want to see him? Partly because of the length, but also because it presents them with an ugly mirror, reminding them that concepts like genocide, colonialism and white settlers are registered in their names in the land registry. Harvard professors and students don't feel like remembering what their ancestors did, but it's easy for them to participate in anti-Israel demonstrations. Scorsese, for his part, didn't bother to say a word about the events of the October 7, but his film speaks for itself.
Why didn't the Americans want to see him? From Killers of the Moon Flower/Cannes Film Festival
In this context, we will conclude with a small story about anti-Semitism, languages and culture, as expressed in the film and its distribution.
During the course of the film, and this is not a spoiler, one of the characters confronts the wretched man played by DiCaprio, calling him a "Jew" as a derogatory word. In Japan, this line of dialogue was translated as "dirty." A friend from Japan explained the reason to me: viewers in the Land of the Rising Sun will not understand that "Jew" is a derogatory word, so the subtext should be translated, not the text. In the United States, of course, this is not so.
"Killers of the Moonflower" is a commemoration that America excels at three things: making long films, genocide and anti-Semitism.
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- Martin Scorsese
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