Killers of the Flower Moon
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Set in the early 1920s, after oil was discovered on the land of the Osage people of Oklahoma, a series of deaths within the Native American tribe forces them to grapple with who they can trust. When a federal officer arrives from the agency that would soon become the FBI, a new story unfolds, one that unveils an epic battle for wealth, land, and power that shaped American history.
Directed by Martin Scorsese and co-written by Scorsese and Eric Roth (The Insider, Forrest Gump), the film is packed with Oscar winners: Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), Robert De Niro (The Irishman), Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog), John Lithgow (Bombshell), Brendan Fraser (The Whale). It also features several Native American actors, including lead Lily Gladstone (Fancy Dance).
With a three-and-a-half-hour duration, Killers of the Flower Moon is a substantial commitment, but one that’s worth the investment. At a time when schools are banning books that discuss the darker periods of American history, it’s an engrossing film about an important era, one that shines a light on the early 20th century power struggle between Native Americans, white settlers, and the federal government.
One of my initial concerns revolved around how the Osage people would be portrayed, given Hollywood’s often problematic history with depicting minorities. But it helps to know that Chief Standing Bear of the Osage Nation was a consultant on the film, and he worked closely with Scorsese to help capture the Osage culture, capturing how they maintained most of their traditional ways of living while also adapting to the encroaching influences of the white settlers.
The film’s pacing is slow, but it feels necessary for the intricate narrative to fully unfold. As a viewer, you become immersed in the era, the tensions, and the points of view of several different characters – going deeper into their motivations, desires, and evolving alliances over time. Every character brings their own layers as they grapple with morally ambiguous decisions.
The story takes an unconventional approach for a Scorsese film, focusing more on the relationship between Mollie (Lily Gladstone), a gentle yet resolute Osage woman deeply dedicated to her family and her culture, and her burgeoning new romance. As she witnesses the tragic murders, she’s increasingly cautious in her interactions with the white settlers. Yet she longs to create a family of her own and forms an unlikely connection with Ernest (DiCaprio), a slightly educated, opportunistic new arrival.
Ernest wants to build his own family, and he sets his sights on Mollie, who’s now a member of one of the wealthiest people in the nation. First he must navigate the influence of his influential uncle, William King Hale (Robert DeNiro, in a performance worth mentioning in the Oscar race). William appears accepting of the Osage culture, even speaking their language and treating Mollie and her sisters with the warmth of a godfather. But there’s an underlying enigma and hints of menace to his character that will remind you of some of the mobsters in Scorsese’s other films.
Throughout the film, Scorsese’s masterful hand is evident, from a clever narrative framing device to the sweeping cinematography, stunning Oklahoma landscapes, and vivid details that bring each costume and scene to life.
What struck me most was the film’s mention of the Tulsa Massacre, a potent parallel to the tragic events of the Osage murders. As a Black male with an understanding of the historical context surrounding the Massacre, I found myself deeply moved, almost to tears, watching the Osage people’s plight in the film.
When you get to the end, which will surprise you, you’ll feel this story resonate on several levels.
An epic historical drama about an unsettling chapter in American history, Killers of the Flower Moon presents a captivating narrative with exceptional performances that keep you engaged throughout its three and a half hour duration. You’ll be hearing about this one throughout the awards season.
Outside of Scorsese fans, this would be a great film to watch with a group of friends and family, mostly because you will want to talk about what you just witnessed.
The film is based on the New York Times bestselling nonfiction book Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. Author David Grann noted in an interview that the film is very faithful to the book.