Killers of the Flower Moon Review

Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Killers of the Flower Moon”. Courtesy of Melinda Sue Gordon

America does not have a pretty past. We know that the people who came to this country slowly started taking advantage of the Natives who lived here by taking their land and eventually their lives by giving them diseased blankets. While this is just a small speck of the horrors that were done to them, Killers of the Flower Moon highlights the suspicious mass murders done to the Osage Nation by men who wanted to take control of their land.

The topic is one that might not have been taught in schools but Martin Scorsese, in his great filmmaking ways, puts a mirror up to this country and says, “Look at what your ancestors did and how can we correct this?” Scorsese does not shy away from showing us the horrors done to the Osage. We see it on screen and hear it talked about like it is no big thing. I am getting ahead of myself so let me back up a little bit.

The movie starts off with images of the Osage people and the story of how they became rich due to oil being found on their reservation in Northeast Oklahoma. These riches made them the target of vultures who felt they knew better than the Osage how to handle their newfound riches. We are introduced to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Ernest Burkhart, who is returning from his Tour of Duty. Ernest is going to stay with his uncle, William King Hale, played by Robert De Niro.

Ernest is not the brightest bulb on the lamp and DiCaprio plays him in a way that you can emphasize with him early on. Ernest has pretty much landed in a spider’s web that is being controlled by his uncle who has become somewhat of a confidant/supporter of the Osage. You know early on that Ernest is in trouble when his uncle tells him to call him by his middle name “King”. The name “King” fits William as he is a ruler who seems to be for the people but silently is the one who is trying to rule them all by taking their land.

Back to DiCaprio’s character for a second. Ernest slowly becomes tangled in this wicked web and when he tries to show his worth and toughness, his plans just backfire on him. We soon find out that while in the war Ernest was a cook. This could explain why he is not as sharp in planning certain events as his uncle thinks he is. Where Ernest fails to come through, his brother, Bryan Burkhart, played by Scott Shepherd, is able to complete the missions for his uncle. I really shouldn’t say missions, I should just say what they are: Murders.

As I have stated before, Scorsese does not shy away from showing the horrors done to the Osage. These men were so comfortable with killing that they would at times talk about it in the open. There is even a moment when a man is throwing a hypothetical question at the insurance agents about what would happen to the land of his adopted Osage children if they die. He says it in such a nonchalant way that he doesn’t realize how terrible this scenario sounds.

Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese behind the scenes of “Killers of the Flower Moon”. Courtesy of Melinda Sue Gordon

Killers of the Flower Moon shows us the atrocities done to the Osage but gives us a lens to see this horror through the incredible performance from Lily Gladstone who plays Mollie Kyle. Mollie is our vessel into the Osage and through her, we see how the Osage carried themselves without the help of the white man. Mollie is deemed trouble because she knows what she wants and takes care of her mother and their fortune. It is because of this that King plants the seed in Ernest’s head to meet her and try to make her his wife. Through an unusual courtship, Mollie accepts Ernest as a suitor and marries him.

With Ernest by her side, Mollie thinks she has someone who will be able to help her find out who is murdering her people. Sadly, we all know that Ernest and his uncle are the ones scheming in the background. Due to not getting any help, Mollie and members of the Osage Tribal Council go to Washington D.C. to get help from the President. J. Edgar Hoover sends down Jesse Plemons, who plays Tom White. An interesting fact about Agent White: he was an actual Texas Ranger and one of the only FBI agents that J. Edgar Hoover allowed to wear a cowboy hat. Agent White, along with a team of men, infiltrates the town and slowly finds out who is responsible for the murders and makes some arrests.

What Scorsese does in the final act of the movie is interesting. I won’t spoil it all but after three and a half hours he sums up what happens in a way that omits courtroom scenes that might have added another half hour or more to the movie. He gives us an epilogue that at first seems too “showy” but the final words of this “act” deliver the punch that we need to hear and be hit with.

There are many fascinating performances in Killers of the Flower Moon but Lily Gladstone is the standout in this movie. DiCaprio and De Niro are their top-tier selves and show why they are at the top of their game. There are other great performances and moments when you are like, “Oh! I did not know that so-and-so was in this!” I said that when I saw Jack White on the screen.

Slight spoiler: There is a moment in the movie when Ernest and Mollie are having dinner and it starts to storm outside. Ernest’s first reaction is to close the windows but Mollie stops him. She tells him to sit down and just listen to the rainfall and the sounds of the storm. As the final credits roll, Scorsese doesn’t have any music playing. The only sound you hear is the sound of a rainstorm as the names of all who were involved scroll by. I took Mollie’s advice and just sat there and listened to the sound and was able to reflect on what I had seen. This is a good way to take in what has happened to the Osage and many other cultures and reflect on why these horrors were justified by the white man.

I will say that seeing this movie has piqued my interest in reading the book by David Grann, but I would also recommend that people read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown for more insights into the horrors done to the Native Americans. I also recommend watching season 3, episode 3 of Reservation Dogs titled Deer Lady.

Final Thoughts: Killers of the Flower Moon shines a light on a dark side of history that many people do not know about. Martin Scorsese tells us an intricate story that shows how the greed of man dehumanizes people which justifies their actions toward the Osage. While the main character of the movie should have been Mollie Kyle, seeing it from the eyes of Ernest Burkhart, puts the viewer in the position of deciding for themselves if what is happening is good or not. This will surely be a contender in the upcoming award season.

Kid-Friendly: The subject of the movie is pertinent in knowing the story of the Osage. This story might not be taught in our school system so it will be best for our children to know about it. While the run time may not keep their attention, this would make for good viewing at home with breaks in between to talk over what was seen.

Violence: Scorsese does not shy away from the violence that was done to the Osage by the white man. Some of the murders are difficult to see even the ones that only show us the aftermath of the murder.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is an epic western crime saga where real love crosses paths with unspeakable betrayal. Based on a true story and told through the improbable romance of Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), “Killers of the Flower Moon” tracks the suspicious murders of members of the Osage Nation, who became some of the richest people in the world overnight after oil was discovered underneath their land. “Killers of the Flower Moon” also stars Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons and is directed by Academy Award winner Martin Scorsese from a screenplay by Eric Roth and Martin Scorsese, based on David Grann’s best-selling book.

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