killers of the flower moon (2023)


 Scorsese’s remarkable epic about the bloody birth of modern America

“Can you find the wolves in this picture,” Ernest Burkhardt (Leonardo DiCaprio) reads aloud as he works his way through a children’s book early in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The wolves aren’t really hidden at all, and they won’t be in the film that follows either, a masterful historical drama about evil operating in plain sight. One of the most disturbing things about Scorsese’s ambitious adaptation of David Grann’s non-fiction book of the same name is how little of its vile behavior stays in the shadows. This is the story of men who treated murder almost mundanely, issuing orders to have people killed like they would order a drink at the bar. Scorsese walks that fine line between telling a very specific story of a couple at the heart of a tragedy and commenting on the larger nature of evil. The wolves in "Killers of the Flower Moon" don’t hesitate to think that what they’re doing might be wrong as long as it profits them in the end.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is based off of the book of the same name, written by David Grann in 2017. The story is a nonfiction account of the murders that plagued the Osage tribe, who became the wealthiest people in the U.S. after finding oil on their land.  

After being pushed off their property to the presumed wasteland of Oklahoma around the turn of the last century, the Osage Nation was stunned to find itself the recipient of the earthly gift of oil, making them the wealthiest group of people in the country per capita relatively overnight. Naturally, the people who had claimed a country they never owned wanted a piece of this action, leading to a battle for land in the region, a conflict that turned a man named William King Hale (Robert De Niro) into a legend. While just a cattle baron himself, Hale was a kingmaker in the Osage region. He was able to play the political games that made him an ally to both the Osage and the white people in the area while working behind the scenes to line his pockets. De Niro gives one of the best performances of his career as a man who prefers to be called "King," rivetingly capturing the kind of sociopath who can sell murder with a smile. He doesn’t stab you in the back. He looks you in the eyes as he does it.

Hale senses someone easily manipulated in his nephew Ernest, who has returned home from the war, ready to be a good soldier for a new cause. Ernest starts as a driver in the area for the wealthy Osage, which leads him to Mollie (Lily Gladstone). The two marry just before Mollie’s family and other members of the Osage population are murdered one after another

“Killers of the Flower Moon” may not be a traditional gangster picture, but it's completely in tune with the stories of corrupt, violent men that Scorsese has explored for a half-century. And yet there’s also a sense of age in Scorsese’s work here, the feeling that he's using this horrifying true story to interrogate how we got to where we are a hundred years later. How did we allow blood to fertilize the soil of this country? Scorsese and Roth took a book that’s essentially about the formation of the F.B.I. by way of the investigation into the Osage murders and shifted the storytelling to a more personal perspective for both Mollie and Ernest.

In the end, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is like a puzzle—each creative piece does its part to form the complete picture. When it’s put together, it’s depressingly easy to see the wolves. The question now is, what do we do when we find them?

    1. Release date: October 20, 2023 (USA)
      Director: Martin Scorsese
      Languages: English; Osage

    1. In real life: Mollie Burkhart (right, played in Killers of the Flower Moon by Lily Gladstone), seen here with her sisters Anna Kyle Brown (center, played by Cara Jade Myers), and Minnie Smith (left, played by Jillian Dion). Mollie's first husband was Henry Roan, who was shot to death during the Reign of Terror; she then married Ernest Burkhart (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). In was Ernest's uncle, William Hale (played by Robert De Niro), who was the prime mover behind the Osage murders. (Image courtesy of the Osage Nation Museum / from the collection of Raymond Red Corn.)

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