He hit Play. “And when it started, I…I watched it.” Killers is a long, uneasy dream of a film about love and deception and greed. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a dissolute war veteran who returns to Osage County, Oklahoma, to work for his uncle, played by Robert De Niro. Recently discovered oil has made the Osage people some of the richest in the country—at least on paper. In time, DiCaprio’s character marries an Osage woman, played by Lily Gladstone. And then the Osage start dying. Killers is violent, it is sad, it is infuriating, and it is sometimes very funny—in other words, it’s a Scorsese movie, and Scorsese found himself absorbed. He thought maybe, somehow, whatever dulling might come he’d staved it off, one more time. “I don’t know how it happened,” he said. “It’s been about six years with this project, since 2017. Living with it. And something about it…I just…I like it.”
Scorsese keeps an office in a building in midtown Manhattan, on the same floor as a seemingly abandoned mortgage company, where the halls are lined with vintage movie posters and a handful of employees work in urgent quiet. One day, while I was sitting in the office kitchen, waiting for Scorsese to arrive, an older woman with a shock of white hair wandered in to pour herself some iced tea from the fridge. It was Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s longtime editor and the winner of three Academy Awards. She smiled, introduced herself, and then wandered back to the editing room that she and Scorsese maintain here. On the wall hung a poster for Spike Lee’s 1983 student film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, signed by Lee in silver ink: “To Marty, Love, Respect.”
When Scorsese arrived, it was at great speed, in a blue sport coat and the biggest sunglasses you’ve ever seen in your life. “Well, it’s not good,” he said. Two days ago, he’d had emergency dental surgery. “It’s major skull-duggery,” he said. “They’re going into the skull soon.”
He had an armful of compact discs with him. “Are you in pain right now?” someone asked.
“Yeah!” Scorsese said, doing a little impish dance.
We sat in his office. He was wearing a pure white shirt, slacks, brown loafers. Scorsese, even in great discomfort, is…lively. He spent most of our first conversation on his feet—at one point, he leapt so suddenly from the couch that I stood up too. “Where are you going?” he asked, genuinely confused.
Behind him, through the window, sat the Queensboro Bridge—cars crawling their way in and out of town. Scorsese is famously garrulous, but he likes to be alone. A legacy of his childhood a few miles south of here, perhaps. “I grew up on the Bowery,” Scorsese said. “And that was like being in a Bosch painting.” To this day his films manage to pack a startling amount of life into any given frame: men fighting on the corner in Taxi Driver; the camera gliding over hundreds of extras in the opening scene of New York, New York; DiCaprio, walking through the hectic sprawl of a movie set in The Aviator. Killers is full of these types of shots, too, characters busy enacting their lives, pushing through crowds, navigating houses full of family.