There are a few things in this world that you can truly count on: death, taxes and Taylor Swift’s chaotic love life attracting headlines. To their number can be added the certain knowledge that, when Martin Scorsese collaborates with either of his two muses, Robert de Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, the results are somewhere between fascinating (Gangs of New York, New York, New York) and stone-cold cinema classics (Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street).
Yet apart from a droll promotional film for a Macau casino (The Audition), the three men have never worked together. This has, finally, now changed, as the trio unite for what looks like another Scorsese crime classic in the form of the three-and-a-half-hour epic Killers of the Flower Moon.
Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival this week, but not released in the United States until October, the picture is based on the non-fiction novel by David Grann. It concerns a notorious series of murders that took place among the Osage Nation in the 1920s in Oklahoma after oil was discovered on what was traditionally tribal land. Judging by the first trailer that has been released for the picture, Scorsese (who co-writes with Eric Roth and also directs) has elicited grim, menacing performances from both DiCaprio and a terrifying-looking De Niro, and has an impressive discovery in the form of his female lead, Lily Gladstone, who plays DiCaprio’s character’s wife, Mollie.
It was initially suggested that the film would focus on the investigation into the murders by the nascent FBI, and that DiCaprio would play the part of the lawman Tom White, with De Niro as William Hale, the man responsible for the murders. Yet both Scorsese and DiCaprio thought it was more interesting to alter the focus of the film onto Hale’s nephew Ernest, who is torn between complicity within his uncle’s evil actions and his love for Mollie. The preview is rich with menace, hints at typically accomplished and ornate Scorsese set pieces and suggests that DiCaprio — always at his best when working with his favorite director — has pulled off something remarkable, that will almost certainly see him nominated for another Academy Award, which he may very well win.
Martin Scorsese is, for my money, America’s greatest living director. Every single picture he has made in the past five decades is worth watching, and several are utter highlights of modern-day cinema. Yet he is now eighty years old, and there can only be so many masterpieces left. Let’s hope that Killers of the Flower Moon is as thrilling, complex and unforgettable as the rest of his work and exemplary of Scorsese’s legacy.