4 out of 5 stars
“Killers of the Flower Moon,” in true Martin Scorsese fashion, is a gory epic about human corruption and greed, but with a heart. The film retells the tragic true story of the Osage Indian Murders in a respectful manner that exposes another fact of white capitalism taking advantage of America’s indigenous people.
The early 20th century in the Osage Nation saw a rise in deaths of wealthy indigenous people. This rise was exposed as a murderous spree for oil money orchestrated by a local kingpin, with the help of the then-infant FBI. In its nearly three and a half hour run time, “Killers of the Flower Moon” details how William “King” Hale (Robert De Niro) and his nephew Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) steal, marry into and orchestrate the grisly murders of native families.
Like the novel it is based on, the film was originally supposed to be told from the point of view of the FBI investigators who came to investigate the murders, but was changed to highlight the impact on the indigenous characters in the film.
This impact is felt in numerous scenes, especially when Ernest Burkhart’s wife, Mollie Burkhart, (Lily Gladstone), is speaking off screen as murder victims are shown. She says the names and ends with “there was no investigation” after the victim is murdered.
Native people in the Osage Nation are shown to be powerless to the events unfolding in their communities. Despite their vast wealth, which they are only given access to by white guardians, King Hale and his cronies murder with impunity as they get closer to controlling the oil reserves in the Osage Nation. Ultimately the native families get a semblance of justice, but too little too late.
Scorsese is known for his graphically violent gangster epics, often accompanied by vicious rock scores and religious undertones. However, “Killers of the Flower Moon” demonstrates a gentler side of the filmmaker, despite its grisly subject matter. It highlights the psychological torment done to indigenous peoples on behalf of white investors, while still maintaining the strength of the few native tribal members like Mollie.
The performances are spectacular, with De Niro and DiCaprio absolutely transforming themselves into monstrous roles, Jesse Plemons’ restrained take on a first-generation FBI agent and an odd but powerful ensemble performance by Brendan Frasier as attorney W.S. Hamilton.
However, one performance trumps the rest. Lily Gladstone’s performance as Mollie Burkhart is expertly restrained and her wailing cries with every death in her family is not forced. Her performance echoes deep within the film’s impact and represents the horrors of Native American manipulation during the period.
The score and the visuals are haunting, with Scorsese in true fashion holding nothing back as people are murdered on screen. There is no warning, but simply the shock left afterwards as a lifeless body is shown, with a low guitar chord accompanying the visual.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” is a horrific recount of the Osage Indian Murders, which exposes another history of Native American manipulation on behalf of the government and greedy white investors.
Photo from cnn.com.