The Big Picture
- Lily Gladstone delivers a stunning yet subtle performance that is the soul of Killers of the Flower Moon. She brings calculated poise and grace to her character, showcasing the humanity under the horror.
- Gladstone’s performance grounds the film in the personal, adding depth and emotional impact. Her presence alone speaks volumes, drawing us into her character and making every moment on screen enrapturing.
- Gladstone’s performance in Killers of the Flower Moon should not be overlooked for awards. She has consistently elevated every film she has been in and this role marks a new beginning for her career.
Though much has been made about the trio of Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro coming together in the titanic cinematic experience that is Killers of the Flower Moon, there is a different name that should be front of mind: Lily Gladstone. Her fellow actors are all great, but this film would be nothing without her giving what is yet another stunning yet subtle showstopper of a performance. It is also merely one of many in her career that, for those looking for more of her incredible work, should seek out however they can. From her breakout performance in 2016’s Certain Women to her other film from this year The Unknown Country and the upcoming Fancy Dance (which a distributor looking for another spectacular story needs to pick up already so more people can see it beyond festivals), Gladstone has become one of the most exciting performers of the 21st Century through moments big and small. Killers of the Flower Moon is merely the next step in this trajectory as it is in her hands that the film is shaped into something consistently breathtaking.
Lily Gladstone Is the Soul of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’
Taking place in the 1920s in Oklahoma and telling the story of how members of the Osage Nation were murdered for their wealth by those closest to them, we first get introduced to Gladstone’s Mollie as she must ask to get approval to use her own money. Even in just this opening, there is so much that we feel from her performance. It is a simple scene, but it immediately becomes riveting as we receive so many emotions from just the way Gladstone carries herself. It is her performance that brings a calculated poise and grace to the casual injustice Mollie must endure just to get by, speaking deliberately with no word wasted. She is never a passive observer in these moments, but it doesn’t shy away from how sinister the world she must survive is. It is her performance that shows the humanity under the horror.
In Gladstone’s eyes, we always see an awareness of how precarious this world already is and the weight that such a state of existence carries with it. When Mollie then meets Ernest (DiCaprio) and marries him, a common occurrence as white husbands could serve as “guardians” for the Osage wealth, she is aware of his greed. We feel it in the conversations she has with her friends where Gladstone is both effortlessly funny in the jokes she delivers and reflective in the way her tone shifts to betray the seriousness of the situation. She gives Mollie multitudes that make it feel as though we have gotten to know her over a lifetime even as our time with her can be regrettably fleeting. This is only the beginning of what becomes not just the best performance of the film, but one of the absolute best of this year or any other.
As Gladstone herself has said, the film is a “great American tragedy” and the impact of it is felt because of her performance. It is she who grounds the film in the personal and not just the historical. Though David Grann’s non-fiction book of the same name did a comprehensive job of outlining just how widespread the plot to murder the Osage was, it still left many of the people behind in the middle section of the book to instead center around the FBI investigation. This was especially true for Mollie who we don’t hear from until the final part. It leaves a lingering sense of detachment to become more of a mystery novel. The shift by Scorsese and Gladstone to explore Mollie in more depth is the film’s greatest creative decision and, to be frank, it would have benefited from making her presence even more of the central focus.
Every moment she is on screen feels richly detailed and completely enrapturing as we just get to take in the nuances of her performance. The way Mollie will sit and listen to the babbling of Ernest ends up speaking infinitely more than he ever does even when she doesn’t say anything at all. Gladstone is one of those performers whose presence alone can do more than most actors would do with page after page of dialogue. She makes the most of every single moment, drawing us into a character so completely that it rips the air right out of us. When she does speak in one of the last conversations of the film that blows the door off the whole thing, it is she who brings it all home in one of the most outstanding conclusions of the year.
Gladstone Should Win All the Awards for ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’
Though awards are by no means the barometer of great art, this is the type of performance so formidable that it going overlooked would be a grave disservice. The Oscars, in particular, have often gotten things wildly wrong through this feels like a chance to get it right. While some were surprised by the announcement that Gladstone will be running for Best Actress in a Leading Role at this year’s Oscars, it completely makes sense as she is the beating heart of the story that makes it into something even more magnificent whenever she is commanding the screen. Other actors have gotten recognition for far less, making this a chance to actually highlight the part of an already potent film that provides its most memorable punch.
Not only is Gladstone’s a great performance in its own right, but it builds upon everything she has done to date. In each distinct film she has done to date, she elevates everything she touches with an emotional range that is simply astounding. Every single detail in how she embodies each character she takes on makes them into ones that feel completely grounded while still soaring emotionally. Mollie is not only just the latest great performance from Gladstone, but it feels like a new beginning that will bring so many more from her in the future.