At this point in America, most people are well aware of the horrendous treatment of Native Americans that colonists and settlers had on the native people of our country. However, this ugly aspect of our history often gets overlooked, glossed over, or even justified as a necessary evil for our nation’s benefit. Based on the novel of the same name by David Grann, Martin Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth have developed a cinematic treatment of this disturbing chapter of U.S. history.
The movie tells the story of how the Osage Nation of American Indians discovered oil underneath their land and how some money-hungry vultures attempted to and succeeded in stealing from them within the guise of “helping” them. I have never read the source material of the film. Still, I understand that it is mainly told from the perspective of the newly formed “Bureau of Investigations,” aka the future FBI, and the investigators who looked into the horrible chain of deaths that affected the Osage Nation after their discovery of oil made them relatively wealthy.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Ernest Burkhart, an American war veteran looking to pursue a new life under the care of his powerful and wealthy uncle, William King Hale (Robert DeNiro). After his discharge from the military, Ernest seeks out the help of his beloved relative, who seems to have a very healthy and respected relationship with the people of the Osage Nation. However, Uncle King manipulates his dim-witted nephew into pursuing a relationship with Osage woman Mollie (Lily Gladstone). Though Ernest is attracted to Mollie, he discovers that this relationship comes with multiple excessive demands from King Hale.
At 206 minutes (close to three and a half hours), Killers of the Flower Moon is still fascinating and powerful. Let me clarify: I am not condoning or justifying the lengthy run time. Though this movie needs to be long, I still feel that it would have been better had some trims been made here and there. A more streamlined film would have had the same impact as this movie, but some scenes and moments are optional.
Still, Scorsese’s newest movie reflects a master filmmaker at work and one who has the right crew members to beautifully and hauntingly capture this tragic story. The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, the production design, the art design, the costumes, and the score and music choices work their wonders here. This movie demands to be experienced in the theater but would have benefitted from either a shorter runtime or at least an intermission.
Killers of the Flower Moon is a very troubling story, with many emotions attached to the events within the narrative. There have been some criticisms expressed by the Osage people who assisted with making the movie, and their complaints are valid. The film underwent a major rewrite because DiCaprio felt that the perspective of the whole film could have been better conceived in the original script treatment. As it was based on a novel that focuses on the birth of the FBI, this would leave out the perspective of the Osage Nation.
Though DiCaprio managed to get Roth and Scorsese to rewrite the story, the movie still focuses too much on his character, Ernest. The film still manages to have an undeniable impact, as the character Mollie (portrayed by the talented Lily Gladstone) remains the purest heart of the story. Like many of Scorsese’s previous movies, the audience should not root for the main character. A lot of the filmmaker’s protagonists are not good people. They are real humans with weaknesses greed, and often make horrible choices.
DiCaprio is, of course, excellent in his role, as a man torn by these weaknesses, but makes the most horrible decisions anyone can make. As the conniving and cold-hearted master of puppets, Robert DeNiro gives a tremendous but rather hateful portrayal of King Hale, a man who does not genuinely care for the well-being of the Osage Nation and only desires to become wealthy and powerful. The film also features great turns by Jessie Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow, Cara Jade Myers, and Scott Shepherd.
Though this movie has its shortcomings and problems, it is still essential viewing to remind people that America’s development was not at all perfect or lovely. There have been terrible atrocities in our history that deserve much attention and acknowledgment. The only way a nation can grow and better itself is to recognize its nasty sins from its past.