Killers Of The Flower Moon Movie Review

critic’s rating: 


The Osage Indian murders were a series of murders of Osage Native Americans in Osage County, Oklahoma, during the 1910s–30s. American journalist David Grann investigated the case for his 2017 book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. The book is the basis for the present film. In 1897, oil was discovered on the Osage Indian Reservation in Oklahoma.. As part of the process of preparing Oklahoma for statehood, the federal government allotted 657 acres to each Osage on the tribal rolls in 1907. The film depicts the greed of white Amercans in all its varying hues. The white citizens are resentful of the wealth being distributed to the natives. They resort to the tactic of getting married to Native American women and then killing them, thus gaining the title to the land deed. Some resort to outright murder, while others let poison do the dirty work. The 1921 brutal murder of Anna Brown brought into fray the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation. The resultant enquiry led to the arrest of the mastermind William King Hale and his nephew, Ernest Burkhart in 1926. Burkhart later turned state’s witness and gave evidence against his uncle. Ernest had married Mollie Kylie, wealthy native women at the behest of his uncle. After the marriage, her relatives started dying under mysterious circumstances. First to go was Minnie Smith, who died of probable poisoning, another sister, Rita Smith and her husband were killed by explosion, while Mollie herself was being poisoned through her insulin injections. The title is a metaphor for smaller flowers dying when taller plants take over. This usually happens during May, that’s when Anna Brown was killed. 

In the film, Robert De Niro plays William King Hale, while Leonardo DiCaprio plays his nephew, Ernest Burkhart. Lily Gladstone, who has Native American blood, plays Mollie Burkhart. Ernest is presented as being a simple minded ex-soldier who has returned from World War 1 and is in need of occupation. His brother Byron (Scott Shepherd), was already working with their uncle. The three, over the years, conspired to kill as many Native Americans as possible, through professional hunters and hitmen, making sure that their direct involvement was kept to the minimum. When the investigation took place, Hale was able to bump off several key witnesses and participants. However, it was the testimony of his nephew which finally condemned him.

The film depicts the tragedy in all its visceral glory, sparing the viewer nothing of the horror. It’s a three-and-a-half hour film, which flows at its own pace. At one level, the whites are shown to be god-fearing, church going men and women, who are more than happy to rub shoulders with their rich, Native American neighbours. But as time goes by, we see their true faces. It’s a war of a community against the other, a mini-genocide, with the entire white populace guilty of being perpetuators. Hale might be the face of this evil but this cankerous roots lie at the heart of everyone white person in the community. There is a chilling scene in the film where a gathering of prominent white men and women put pressure on Ernest not to testify against his uncle. Every person in the room is a killer to some degree but don’t see their actions as crime, believing that white people have a God-given right to rule the other races. Another horrifying set of scenes involve the slow poisoning of Mollie. She has diabetes and her own husband is mixing poison in the insulin and injecting it to her. It’s betrayal and deception played out at so many levels. 

Martin Scorsese, who famously ranted against the so-called degradation of cinema, had a point to prove about what proper cinema should be and has answered his critics through this film. Given the length of the film, he does grow self-indulgent at times, though you never feel bored, given the human drama being unfolded. Why he deviated from the whodunit, investigative viewpoint of the book beats us. The linear progression jars your interest at times. Also, given the fact that the film shows crime against the Native Amercians, shouldn’t the film be told from their point of view, rather than that of the white villains? Molly should have been the centre of it all, than Ernest, though you can’t expect your top-billed star to take a back seat. The actual investigation reportedly took place over a period of two years but here, it is hurried along and looks forced. 

The movie is supposedly shot using film cameras, giving them an old world quality, reminiscent of John Huston’s films. The daylight photography is a treat to watch and even the night scenes, shot mostly in true light, have a picturesque quality to them. For example, the scenes depicting Molly’s illness, where she lies sweat-drenched in a room lit by oil lamps lend a poignant touch to the proceedings. The background score too is phenomenal, so is the sound design. 

Scorcese has chosen his actors with care. Robert De Niro is spot on as Hale. He’s the perfect godfather figure to the community, playing everyone’s friend but secretly coveting their wealth. This Jekyll and Hyde personality has been perfectly brought to life by the consummate actor. Lily Gladstone is cast as the perfect Native American beauty. She doesn’t have robust expressions but her eyes say it all. The tragedy reflected in them as she catches on to her husband’s lie is almost haunting. Apart from perhaps De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio is said to be Scorcese’s favourite actor. This is the sixth collaboration between them, and the actor does full justice to his director’s confidence in him. He is shown to be a simple individual at first, then slowly gets addicted to a life of crime, indulging in robbery and gambling and doesn’t bat an eye even when it comes to arranging murders. The actor brings out the remorse and guilt of his character admirably in the scene where he breaks down in jail after hearing of his younger daughter’s death. It’s a scene which punches you in the gut, and you feel the impact long after you have left the theatre. On the other hand, one also feels DiCaprio is paying homage to such actors as Marlon Brando and Paul Muni in the latter half, especially in portions where he’s jailed and asked to testify. He isn’t just himself in those scenes but represents a wealth of actors specialising in tragedy, who have graced American cinema.

Watch the film for its true-to-life depiction of one of the harshest chapters of American history. And also for the wealth of acting talent displayed by all. 

Trailer : Killers of the Flower Moon

Neil Soans, October 26, 2023, 2:47 PM IST

critic’s rating: 


Story: When Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) moves to an oil-rich Osage Nation in the 1920s, looking to make a living after the war, little does he know what awaits him.

Review: Trust the man who riled up a whole generation of fans with his commentary on what cinema isn’t, to show us how impactful it can be by flipping the script on whitewashed history. Based on the book of the same name, Martin Scorsese adapts this screenplay with Eric Roth to bring an essential yet little-known true and tragic story of Native American history to the big screen. The runtime of three and a half hours does sound daunting, but not a minute is wasted throughout the film, as the screenplay is honed down to each beat. Scorsese gradually builds on various pieces of this intricate tale, and if a filmmaker is to be judged by how they end their movies, then that’s where he truly delivers.
Underlying the complexities of human emotion, especially greed and deception, that the director deploys to keep us engaged, the most surprisingly effective one is ‘love’, or rather how it can blind those afflicted by it. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart is critical to that narrative; he meets and falls head over heels with Lily Gladstone’s Mollie. Ernest makes no bones about his intent, and despite being no pushover, Mollie can’t resist his charms. But the extent of Ernest’s aims is determined by his uncle William Hale, otherwise known as King, played by Robert De Niro. These three form the key players, and each respective actor deserves all the accolades inevitably coming their way. Scorsese arguably brings out the best in De Niro, so seeing the veteran actor back in form is excellent. Then again, so does the director with DiCaprio, and to say this probably could be the latter’s most layered work wouldn’t be an understatement. However, the most impressive is Lily Gladstone, who is a devastating force amidst DiCaprio and De Niro in a career-making performance.

Be prepared for ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ to have a strong presence during awards season because all the vital ingredients are in place, not just for Oscar bait. Scorsese maintains a critical balance between storytelling and technical elements, such as the unmissable and uneasy score by Robbie Robertson. Whether the lengthy runtime is justified is debatable, but what isn’t is Scorsese’s vision and memorable execution of a complex, heart-breaking tale of lies and deception.

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