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Killers of the Flower Moon

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, the latest film from director Martin Scorsese, has been a passion project for the legendary filmmaker for many years. Telling the devastating true-life story of the horrors bestowed upon the Osage Nation in 1920’s Oklahoma, it is yet another cinematic gem from one of the greatest craftsmen of all-time.  

After the members of the Osage Nation were displaced from their homes in Missouri and Kansas and settled on a reservation in Oklahoma, they were soon showered with unfathomable wealth. The land that had been given to them was rich with oil, and soon, companies from across the country were flocking there to lease properties from those who now owned it. At a time when there were very few individuals in the United States who owned a car, there were Osage residents who owned multiple vehicles. Money wasn’t an object for many residents, who spent lavishly and enjoyed all the finest things that life had to offer. 

With wealth comes the penchant for evil, and men like William Hale (Robert DeNiro) were happy to do whatever it took to line his own pockets. Though he ran a successful farm of his own, the profits weren’t nearly enough for his insatiable greed. To most, he was a gregarious, kind, generous man who built homes, schools, and dance studios.  But beyond this façade lived a heart of darkness. He made it a point to befriend the wealthiest families in the county, and then, if and when their family was struck by tragedy, the vast estates would often find their way to him.  

For members of the Osage Nation, death came frequently, but not always quickly.  Many members fell ill with the “wasting disease” which would lead to a slow, brutal death. There was no established medical reason for this. It was just sort of something that happened. Many other individuals died under equally mysterious and shady circumstances, but none of the deaths were investigated. These weren’t white folks passing away, after all. They were all just tragedies that befell some of the wealthiest families in the county.

When the constantly frowning and dour Ernest Burkhardt (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns from the war with a damaged gut and a never-ending supply of naivety, his uncle William offers him a position as a driver (among other things). Ernest quickly falls for Mollie (Lily Gladstone), one of his first passengers and an extremely wealthy member of the Osage nation. Her mother has been sickly, and one of her three sisters isn’t feeling so great lately, either. The two form a connection (she thinks he is handsome while her sisters accurately proclaim that he is a “dullard”) and much to the delight of Hale, they are soon married. He impresses upon his nephew that the fortunes must stay within the family, and Ernest needs to do everything he can to ensure that he will be beneficiary if any of the recent rash of tragedies were to befall Mollie or her kin.

Despite a running time of nearly three-and-a-half hours, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON never lags. As a viewer, you hang on to each word and soak up every scene, as to not miss a moment of this gut-wrenching saga. The callous and ruthless disregard for life for something as meaningless as money is a tale as old as civilization itself, but Scorsese’s ability to portray this lust settles deeply within the consciousness and forces you to consider how depraved humanity can be. This is embodied with DeNiro’s Hale, but is more complexly investigated by DiCarprio’s Ernest. He is a man who would never be accused of being brilliant, but also one that should know the boundaries of decency. His desire to please and pacify his uncle (along with his admitted affinity for money) allows him to travel to any lengths to satisfy his needs. This is where his true nature becomes blurry and is explored with a deft brilliance by DiCaprio. Is he a man who is loyal to his family to a fault and blindly ignorant to the devastation he has wrought, or is he just as bad as every other murderer who gladly kills as long as his pockets are full? We are lead to believe, and he often professes, that he loves his wife. He is reluctant to do anything that will cause her harm, but is opposed to finding a way to “slow her down, a little.”  The answer to whether or not Mollie knows what is happening to her rests somewhere behind her increasingly sickly eyes, and behind Gladstone’s Oscar caliber performance, there is no easy answer to be found. She becomes the embodiment of the tragedy of the Osage people, and face of the horrors that unfolded. 



RUN TIME: 3h 26min 

GENRE: Crime, Drama, History 

STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, Lily Gladstone 

DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese

Writers:  Eric Roth, Martin Scoresese, David Gran 

Now playing in theaters.


Brian Miller