Movie: KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON
Rating: R, violence, some grisly images, and language
Release Date: October 20, 2023
Jeanne: An iconic masterpiece, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON marks the seventh collaboration of Leonardo DiCaprio and the 10th of Robert De Niro with the brilliant and prolific director Martin Scorsese. Determined to tell the true story of what happened during the Reign of Terror in the Osage Nation during the 1920s, Scorsese and Eric Roth penned the screenplay based on the non-fiction book ”Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann.
As a fan of westerns --- and having the desire to make one --- Scorsese was immediately drawn to this mostly unknown chapter in American history. When the Osage community was forced to move west from the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys, they eventually settled in the territory now known as Oklahoma. The discovery of oil in 1894 made the tribe unbelievably wealthy, which prompted the U.S. government to establish a system of “guardianship”.
This racist and criminal system allowed white men to manage the fortunes of the Native Americans, thus costing these people millions of dollars in earnings. And it also allowed the likes of villains such as William “King” Hale (De Niro) to prey upon the Osage peoples, systematically murdering them for their properties. Professing to be their friend and benefactor --- and at times he was --- his ultimate obsession was greed.
Following the end of World War I, Hale’s nephew, Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio), arrives in Oklahoma looking for work. Hale starts Ernest off as a cab driver, meeting Mollie (Lily Gladstone), one of four daughters of Lizzy (Tantoo Cardinal), a very wealthy Osage matriarch. A courtship ensues and Ernest and Mollie marry, despite Mollie being very aware of Ernest’s distinct lack of ambition. But, in fact, they do love each other. Unfortunately, Hale has other ideas for Mollie and her family, and enlists Ernest in his nefarious plans.
As more and more members of the Osage community meet untimely deaths, Mollie and a small group travel to Washington, D.C. to implore President Calvin Coolidge to investigate the carnage. J. Edgar Hoover, who is overseeing the newly convened Bureau of Investigation, sends agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons) and several others to Oklahoma to solve the murders, with their main focus on Burkhart and Hale.
With a running time of three hours and 26 minutes --- and amazingly enough David never fell asleep --- KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, under the mindful direction of Scorsese, gives an exhaustive depiction of this horrific episode of a near genocidal attempt. David believes the run time is justified, I feel it could have been trimmed to a maximum of three hours without altering this very important film. But no matter --- KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is spectacular.
First --- and foremost --- are the performances. DiCaprio is simply masterful as the slightly dim Burkhart. He’s never been better --- and that’s saying a lot. And of course, De Niro is superb. However, it is Ms. Gladstone who steals the movie. She captures the essence of this proud Osage woman with every single movement. And she doesn’t have to say much --- her facial expressions and silence speak volumes. It’s an exquisite portrayal and one that should garner a nomination for Best Actress come Oscar season. In fact, all three should be nominated.
Plemons is also quietly effective as the newly minted agent. John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser have small roles as opposing attorneys near the film’s end. And to Scorsese’s credit, he cast more than 44 roles with Osage actors, including hundreds who filled in as background players. His commitment to the Osage people, with whom he spent a great deal of time, is on full display.
As one would expect from Scorsese and Roth, the script is well conceived and engrossing. Even in its over-long state, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON keeps the audience’s attention, never loosening its grip on this particularly abhorrent piece of history.
And, as we’ve also come to expect from Scorsese, his crew is phenomenal. His long-time collaborators, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, composer Robbie Robertson, who passed away before the release of KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, helped bring this story to life. Filmed on location in Oklahoma, the sweeping vistas courtesy of Prieto, incredible production designs by Jack Fisk and well-researched, fantastic costumes by Jacqueline West all add to this epic undertaking by the director.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is not a film with mass appeal. The long running time may be off putting for some --- and others may not be enamored of a western with a disturbing plotline. But it is based on real events and deserves to be viewed for its astounding excellence.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
David: Over a hundred years ago beginning in 1920, at least 60 members of the Native American tribe Osage Nation were murdered in what is called the Reign of Terror. Based on the best-selling, non-fiction book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” by David Grann, acclaimed director Martin Scorsese has brought the Osage Nation’s tragic history to the screen in KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. His screenplay co-writer is Oscar winner Eric Roth (FORREST GUMP) who boasts multiple Academy Award nominations.
Leonardo DiCaprio optioned the rights to Grann’s book when it was still a manuscript in 2016. The seven-time collaborator with
Scorsese --- on some of cinema’s most iconic films --- had his director read the story. Scorsese was consumed with the idea of making his first western, but more importantly accurately bringing the incredibly dark story of the Osage people to light. To that end, he was dedicated to casting as many roles in his film as possible to Osage people. The director’s other projects, along with Covid 19, delayed the film’s completion.
DiCaprio plays one of the lead roles as the conflicted Ernest Burkhart, whose love story with Osage woman Mollie (Lily Gladstone) is at the center of the movie. The third leading role went to Robert De Niro as William “King” Hale, Ernest’s uncle and a longtime ally of the Osage people --- or so we initially believe. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is De Niro’s 10th film with Scorsese.
True cinephiles should not be deterred by the movie’s exceptionally long running time of three hours and 26 minutes. Although Jeanne thinks it was a bit too long, I do not. I was frozen in my seat for the duration of our screening, completely mesmerized by the epic performances of DiCaprio, De Niro and Gladstone. In fact, I was surprised at how quickly the time had passed.
A strong supporting turn from Jesse Plemons as an FBI agent, cameos by Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow as opposing attorneys, plus an exceptional supporting cast contribute to a movie that is sure to garner multiple Academy Award nominations. Fans of TV’s “Billions” will recognize Louis Cancelmi who plays Kelsie Morrison, giving matter-of-fact testimony about a murder he committed as if he’s done nothing wrong. One character states that “kicking a dog is worse than killing an Indian”. It’s all quite chilling.
The gist of the story involves the discovery of oil on Osage land in the late 19th century. Because of that dramatic find these Native American people were transformed into one of the world’s wealthiest cultures. Unfortunately, great wealth also breeds exploitation by greedy individuals. In the case of the Reign of Terror, white men --- including some in the U.S government --- conceived and managed guardianships of Osage earnings, skimming millions of dollars from funds that should have gone to the residents. And of course, some of these conscienceless individuals turned to homicide to get what they wanted.
One common practice had white men marrying Osage women to achieve inheritance status of what was called their “headrights”. DiCaprio’s character falls into that category. Although Ernest Burkhart was no saint, it was his Uncle Bill Hale who was the epitome of evil, albeit well-disguised for many decades.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is easily one of the year’s best films. This is DiCaprio’s career-best performance and I doubt his chances for a second Oscar will be diminished by any prior or future turn by a male actor in 2023. De Niro --- in a supporting role --- deserves a nom while Gladstone’s remarkable portrayal should make her a lock for a lead actress nomination. She says as much with her silence as with her speech. Gladstone, by the way, is of Blackfeet heritage. All three of these incredible performances are marked by the usage of Osage native dialects throughout the film.
Robbie Robertson, frequent musical collaborator and lifelong friend of Scorsese, provides guitar and drum beats for this film which greatly enhance the viewing. Robertson, who composed massive hits like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up on Cripple Creek” passed away this past August, just weeks before the film’s scheduled release. And Thelma Schoonmaker, a triple Oscar winner and Scorsese’s editor on all his films dating back to RAGING BULL in 1980, plies her trade here, making everything look natural.
Scorsese finishes his triumphant effort with a replication of a radio broadcast that took place in 1937. It simulates much of what occurred during this despicable time in American history with fascinating sound effects. He closes the radio broadcast --- and the movie --- taking a cue from Alfred Hitchcock.
To miss KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON for any reason would be a regrettable choice by anyone who takes their movies seriously.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!