On Saturday night, Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” premiered to the biggest standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival so far. The 3 hour and 26 minute drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone — which tells the story of a dark, largely unexplored chapter of American history — connected with theater-goers in the French Riviera. Even after sitting through a movie that was longer than “Titanic,” the crowd was so enraptured that they sprang to their feet and applauded for nine minutes.
Cannes clearly loves Leo (last spotted here with “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”) and Scorsese, who returned to the festival for the first time since 1985’s “After Hours.” And that’s good news for Apple Original Films, which forked over $200 million to the auteur to realize his vision, hoping he’d deliver one of his signature explorations of criminality. While many of Scorsese’s classic movies unfold on the mean streets of New York, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is set in northeastern Oklahoma as members of the Osage Nation are murdered in a systematic fashion for sinister ends.
DiCaprio, De Niro and Jesse Plemons walked the red carpet alongside Scorsese before the premiere, braving the rainy and overcast weather. Cate Blanchett, who won an Oscar for playing Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator,” greeted Scorsese as he took his seat to cheers. But when the movie ended, the loudest screams were directed at the discovery of the film: Gladstone, who plays an Osage woman betrayed by her greedy husband for her wealth. She earned rave reviews and fought back tears as the crowd inside the Palais clapped loudly. On social media, Oscar bloggers are already tapping her performance for possible awards attention.
As the applause continued after the film ended, Scorsese took the microphone to address the crowd. “Thank you to the Osages,” he said. “Everyone connected with the picture. My old pals Bob and Leo, and Jesse and Lily. We shot this a couple of years ago in Oklahoma. It’s taken it’s time to come around but Apple did so great by us. There was lots of grass. I’m a New Yorker. I was very surprised. This was an amazing experience. We lived in that world.”
The ovation might have last even longer had the filmmaker not been called to address the packed theater. Scorsese kept mouthing “thank you” as the crowd continued to cheer. He seemed energized by the response, though he also made it clear he didn’t like having the camera linger on him (a hazard of the Cannes experience where every movement of the A-listers in attendance is captured for posterity). Standing around Scorsese, the actors who played Osage members wiped their eyes, overcome with emotion.
The movie started 45 minutes late, but the crowd inside the Palais seemed unperturbed. After all, “Killers of the Flower Moon” was the most anticipated film of the festival and its hottest tickets, one of those moments where Hollywood sends it brightest talents to the South of France to celebrate the art (and glitter) of moviemaking. And there were moguls among the movie stars. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, made an appearance at Cannes to support the company’s foray into filmmaking. When Apple’s banner flicker across the screen after the movie started, the crowd erupted in applause, in contrast to the reception that received at a media screening.
Elsewhere along the Croisette, at a 4:30 p.m. press screening for “Killers” at the Debussy theater, a queue snaked all the way to the Club Maritime, which sits just behind the festival’s central hub. Journalists who arrived an hour early for the screening were forced to wait outside, huddled in the pouring rain. Doors opened just 10 minutes before the screening was scheduled to begin, sparking a mad scramble as people elbowed their way to get into the theater. By the time the auditorium was fully seated and the lights dimmed, the movie was running 15 minutes late.
Yet the festival’s uncharacteristic tardiness didn’t dampen the mood inside, where press occupied almost every seat of the 1,068-seat cinema, and erupted in raucous cheering as the film kicked off. When the Apple TV+ logo elicited some booing, one brave member of the press yelled, “Hey! They paid for it!”
Overall, De Niro and DiCaprio’s unexpected comedy act, particularly a sequence in which De Niro spanks DiCaprio with a paddle in a deserted Mason’s lodge, was warmly received with whoops of laughter. And Gladstone appeared to have stolen the film from the two vets. “She’s amazing,” one attendee enthused of her performance at a pivotal moment towards the movie’s end.
Based on David Grann’s 2017 book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” Scorsese’s latest is set in 1920s Oklahoma and focuses on a series of murders in the Osage Nation. The newly-formed FBI arrives on the scene to investigate and uncovers a sinister operation. The supporting cast includes Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow (Scorsese also has a cameo that earned loud applause).
Notably, “Flower Moon” marks the first time Oscar winners DiCaprio and De Niro have worked together in a feature film since Michael Caton-Jones’ 1993 drama “This Boy’s Life.” Both actors played fictionalized versions of themselves in Scorsese’s short film “The Audition.” De Niro earned Oscar nominations for best actor by starring in Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” “Cape Fear” and “Raging Bull,” winning for the latter. DiCaprio was Oscar-nominated for Scorsese’s “The Aviator” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Scorsese worked closely with the Osage Nation during the production of “Flower Moon,” with Osage Nation chief Geoffrey Standing Bear serving as a consultant. Gladstone told Variety the Osage Nation played a huge role in shaping the movie from Scorsese’s original plan.
“The work is better when you let the world inform the work,” Gladstone said. “That was very refreshing how involved the production got with the [Osage Nation] community. As the community warmed up to our presence, the more the community got involved with the film. It’s a different movie than the one [Scorsese] walked in to make almost entirely because of what the community had to say about how it was being made and what was being portrayed.”
Apple and Paramount will release “Killers of the Flower Moon” in theaters on Oct. 20. It will then debut on Apple’s streaming service at an unspecified date.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” screened out of competition at Cannes, so it will not be eligible for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest prize. Scorsese won the Palme for “Taxi Driver” and earned a directing prize at Cannes for “After Hours.”
Manori Ravindran contributed to this report.