There are probably more interesting aspects of Killers of the Flower Moon to discuss than its runtime: the impeccable performances from Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro for example, or the fascinating and nuanced discussions that have emerged about the film's perspective and the ingenious manner in which Martin Scorsese opted to end it.


But ever since its epic 3-and-a-half-hour length was first revealed, some film fans have become fixated on questioning whether such a prolonged duration is really necessary.

Indeed, even many of the fans and critics who have been otherwise enthusiastic in their assessments have pointed to that runtime as an obstacle. The film is terrific, they say, but did it really have to be so long?

Speaking on his popular podcast with Simon Mayo, the esteemed film critic Mark Kermode devoted much of his review to this matter, suggesting that Scorsese had become ill-disciplined in an age where streamers have given him free rein to make films as long as he sees fit.

Now, as much as I respect Kermode, I'm not sure this critique holds much water. Throughout his career, Scorsese has often made films that hover around the three-hour mark – Casino, The Aviator, and Gangs of New York are three such examples – and so his two most recent pictures hardly represent some kind of radical shift since he began partnering with the streaming giants.

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But quite apart from that, I'd argue that far from being a weakness the length of Killers of the Flower Moon is one of the qualities that makes it such a fascinating and compelling experience. This is a richly detailed film that tells its story with patience and precision, slowly unfolding until it reaches a crescendo that is all the more powerful for the sustained build-up that has come before it. In other words, it's the kind of film that leaves the viewer walking out of the cinema with the feeling they've experienced something seismic and profound. So much of its momentum would be lost if the runtime was truncated, or worse still, split into four one-hour chunks.

Killers of the Flower Moon
Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon. Apple

I've also noticed a bizarre tendency from some corners to label ultra-long runtimes like this as some kind of new phenomenon. But of course, Hollywood has a long tradition of epic storytelling, from Gone with the Wind to – dare I mention it at the risk of bringing up the maddening Scorsese v Marvel debate yet again – Avengers: Endgame.

And while there is obviously no obligation to like or even admire films of this nature, I'm not convinced that criticising Killers of the Flower Moon because you don't like epic runtimes is any more valid than, say, criticising The Exorcist because you don't like horror. (For what it's worth, I'm not averse to films like this having an interval built in for reasons of comfort – but it should be written into the script rather than abruptly inserted at a dramatic point in the film).

Now, all this isn't to say that there aren't films that overstay their welcome or that ramble on interminably with no value or purpose. But it's all a matter of pacing, and this is something that, to my mind, Killers of the Flower Moon gets exactly right.

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I've seen the film twice now and on both occasions, my attention hasn't waned once. Instead, I felt truly transported to and immersed in 1920s Oklahoma. The more time I spent with these characters and their plight, the more heinous the crimes of William Hale, Ernest Burkhart, and the numerous accomplices and institutions that aided and abetted them seemed, and, indeed, the more unbearable the suffering of Mollie and the Osage people became.

Surely, that can only count as an unqualified success.

So in a world where attention spans are being gradually eroded by shorter forms of video, I think we should be celebrating something that can command and hold our attention for such a long stretch. Instead of seeing the runtime as some kind of impediment, we should be recognising it as one of Killers of the Flower Moon's greatest strengths. Here's to more epics!

Killers of the Flower Moon is now showing in UK cinemas. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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