Not to mention the context. The 1920s were already a theatrical, grandstanding time (see: The Great Gatsby, or Bill Bryson’s lovingly told portrait of 1927 in One Summer: America 1927) and the white-collar defense attorney is one of our most theatrical, grandstanding archetypes. Who could forget “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit?”
This is the time and the kind of character Fraser is playing.
Meanwhile, up until that point, Killers of the Flower Moon has been largely a quiet movie about whispered plots, back-room deals, and Ernest Burkhart gaslighting his wife in their dead quiet Oklahoma house–a deliberately-isolated corner of deliberately-isolated “Indian Country.” All of a sudden these characters are thrust onto the national stage, by way of crowded courtrooms packed with federal officials and flashbulbing journalists.
This is meant to be jarring. Historically, it’s the moment the larger country caught wind of all (well, some) of the shady shit that had been going down in Fairfax and Pawhuska. The movie shifts from quiet character study to courtroom drama, and Fraser’s character is the face of that shift.
Killers of the Flower Moon is a star-studded movie that—up until that moment—doesn’t feel particularly star-studded. Certainly not in the way that famous faces are always showing up in cameo roles in Wes Anderson or David O. Russell movies. Fraser seems to naturally operate on a different level of reality than the rest of the film (at least one commentator pointed out that he’s playing a Coen Brothers character in a Scorsese movie). Where De Niro and DiCaprio’s characters get slowly grounded and fleshed out over the course of a few hours, Fraser and John Lithgow (who shows up as a prosecutor) are two famous faces suddenly coming to us cold, without benefit of all the foundation-building.
There are also qualities peculiar to Brendan Fraser that add to both the jarring effect of the performance and people’s compulsion to defend it. Fraser, who won an Oscar for his performance in The Whale, is not Daniel Day-Lewis. He doesn’t disappear into roles, which isn’t to say that he doesn’t commit or perform the hell out of them—it’s just that he’s always there, for better or worse. As Killing Them Softly director Andrew Dominik once said of Brad Pitt, “You obviously can’t cast Brad as an everyman because he brings too much baggage to something like that. But if he’s playing a mythological character or somebody exceptional, then that baggage is a good thing.”