Killers of the Flower Moon almost achieves greatness, Pigeon Tunnel examines spies, Old Dads a tired joke

Bloated script keeps Moon from achieving greatness

Flawed yet compelling, Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon is a portrait of unconscionable greed and willing compliance, an examination of one of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century and a metaphor for the corruption in the United States. Based on the book by David Grann, the film pulls no punches in its depiction of the systematic slaughter of members of the Osage tribe during the 1920s, condoned by the powers-that-be in the Oklahoma community where they lived.

In the late 1800s, oil is found on the Osage reservation in Oklahoma, so much so that by the time the 1920s roll around, this group is the richest, per capita, in the world. Unabashedly enjoying their largess, they quickly become targets for rapacious businessmen such as William Hale (Robert De Niro), a self-proclaimed friend of the Osage. He and other opportunists are aware the oil rights individuals were allotted would pass on to their spouses if they were to die. As such, Hale encourages his nephew, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a World War I veteran he's taken under his wing, to be on the lookout for an Osage woman to marry. He soon sets his sights on Mollie (Lily Gladstone), an outspoken member of the tribe who's initially wary of his advances. She eventually weakens, agrees to marry Burkhart and their family grows.

As usual, Scorsese does not shrink from tackling a complex narrative, the machinations behind this scheme quickly explained, followed by a series of graphic killings that underscore the ruthless nature of his characters. Their intent is not a secret, but the extent to which Hale and his brethren will go to line their pockets proves fascinating, their lack of empathy revealing the monsters that live among the Osage.

The film's third act introduces some familiar and welcome faces. Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow appear as opposing attorneys in the case that's ultimately brought against Hale and Burkhart, while Jesse Plemons shows ups as Tom White, a former Texas Ranger, now employed by the burgeoning FBI, sent by J. Edgar Hoover to investigate the murders. The inclusion of these three provides the film with a boost just when it threatens to lose momentum. While I suspect Scorsese wanted to avoid making a crime procedural, delving a bit more into how White and his cohorts cracked the case would have helped energize the rather stagnant last hour. And while this may not rank with his very best, there's no question that Scorsese hasn't lost a step, Moon hindered only by a bloated and, at times, uneven script. In theaters.

Tunnel full of secrets and lies

Sage advice for any aspiring author is to "write what you know." Former spy David Cornwell took this to heart, having written a series of highly successful espionage novels under the pen name John Le Carre. Errol Morris' fascinating documentary, The Pigeon Tunnel, is composed of a series of interviews the filmmaker had with Cornwell before his death in 2020 and what develops is much more than a succession of question-and-answer sessions.

Having learned from an early age to always maintain a façade to hide your true nature, it becomes obvious that what Cornwell doesn't say is at times more important than what he does. Morris becomes aware of this as well and what develops is a sort of cat-and-mouse game in which the filmmaker attempts to discover Cornwell's true nature while his subject deftly tries to brush aside his probing queries.

We learn that Cornwell's father, Ronnie, was a fraud, a man who rubbed elbows with the members of England's high society but didn't have a cent to his name. Yet, he always maintained the appearance of having riches, enjoying the high life at every opportunity. Cornwell recounts that the truth was never spoken of, that the entire family knew to maintain appearances and not question the reality of their situation. This quality proves to be valuable when fate thrusts Cornwell into the world of MI-6, as he was quite adept at hiding in plain sight when necessary and not tipping his hand when in possession of valuable information. However, having known his father and aware of his own tendencies, Cornwell becomes suspicious of all his colleagues, aware that if he is hiding his true nature, they must be as well.

Morris weaves these conversations together with recreations of the events Cornwell relates, at times intercutting them with clips from various adaptations of his novels, showing how they mirror one another. The most arresting moment takes place when we're shown what the pigeon tunnel is, something that needs to be seen to be appreciated. Long story short, it's a display of learned behavior that is repeated until the subject dies.

Of course, the final question is, how much of what Cornwell is telling us is true? Obviously, there are some facts that can and are confirmed, but the man himself remains a mystery. Perhaps all he has said is true and he simply planted a seed of doubt to make Morris question it. And that might be the point, as what emerges is a portrait of an incredibly guarded man, one who could never reveal his true thoughts or feelings through fear of vulnerability. This sort of emotional damage can't help but prove poignant. Streaming on Apple TV.

Dads gets old before its time runs out

Bill Burr has a successful stand-up routine. Casting himself as an aggrieved Baby Boomer, he carps about the various compromises he's had to make in the face of the new social awareness that has swept the nation. In his mind, he's misunderstood and means no harm in the things he says. His heart is in the right place, and at times his common-sense approach to today's world rings true. Yet, casting himself as the victim in an age he no longer understands has proven to be a comic goldmine for him. He further mines this schtick in his directorial debut Old Dads, a labored, obvious comedy that proves occasionally amusing, though in the end it'll likely tax your patience.

Burr stars as Jack, a guy in his early 40s who, like his friends and business partners Connor and Mike (Bobby Cannavale and Bokeem Woodbine), has come to fatherhood rather late in life. He wants what's best for his young son but goes about things all wrong, consistently setting what is considered a bad example time and again. If he's not calling the head of his boy's preschool a word no decent newspaper will print or dealing with self-centered Gen Xers, he's all wrong. Not only is Jack made to feel as if he doesn't belong in society, but it spills over to the workplace as well when he and his friends unknowingly sell the retro sports jersey company they created to an eco-friendly conglomerate that installs a 28-year-old as their boss. Of course, you can see how that's going to turn out.

I have no doubt Burr feels anachronistic, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I agree with his point of view more times than not. I just wish he didn't highlight all the worst aspects of those of us who don't feel as though we were made for these times. That Jack, Connor and Mike all have wives much younger than them doesn't help, nor does the fact that they all come off as shrews throughout. Having the three female leads portrayed as "the old ball and chain" is not a good look and to make things worse, it's just not funny.

In the end, Burr simply doesn't have much new to say regarding feeling out of step with the times. What he has to say is better delivered in quick, angry jabs on stage, the immediate audience reaction to his jokes fueling his ire. Here, his "woe-is-me" act loses steam quickly, as Old Dads wears out its welcome like the old man you pretend to listen to but couldn't care less what he's saying. Streaming on Netflix.

About The Author

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

Illinois Times has provided readers with independent journalism for almost 50 years, from news and politics to arts and culture.

Your support will help cover the costs of editorial content published each week. Without local news organizations, we would be less informed about the issues that affect our community..

Click here to show your support for community journalism.

Got something to say?

Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment