Killers of the Flower Moon

Peter W Sheehan 22 October 2023

The film depicts the US serial killing of members of the oil-wealthy Osage peoples in the 1920s.

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone and Jesse Plemons. Also, John Lithgow and Tantoo Cardinal. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong injury detail and suicide references). 206 min.

This American crime drama is based on the 2017 best-selling non-fiction novel Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, which tells of the brutality against the Indigenous Osage Nation Peoples in America after oil was discovered on their land. The film depicts a string of brutal crimes in the US that came to be known as America’s ‘Reign of Terror’.

This movie is emotionally powerful in its depiction of the greed, injustice and violence delivered to the Osage Nation Indigenous Peoples in the 1920s by White Westerners. The wealth of the Osage peoples was controlled by white guardians, who had the authority to approve, or deny spending. The story is told against the background of the life of WWI veteran, Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio), who falls in love with an Indigenous woman named Mollie (Gladstone), a member of a wealthy Osage family.

Burkhart arrives to visit his rich cattle-baron uncle, ‘King’ Hale (De Niro). Hale combined self-serving ambition, with violent intent, and greed. Twenty-four Osage people were murdered one-by-one in mysterious circumstances, and countless deaths followed, until the FBI stepped in to investigate. Plemons plays the FBI agent, Tom White, and the film documents a conspiracy to kill Osage People, including members of Mollie’s family, for their wealth. Burkhart was drawn into violence by his uncle, who viewed Indigenous Peoples as undeserving. Hale knew that Mollie was his path to greater wealth, and he intentionally manipulated his nephew’s relationship. Burkhart constantly struggled with his conscience, but his actions became increasingly immoral and self-serving under the influence of his scheming uncle.

Scorsese, as director, keeps a focus on the compromised love between Mollie and Burkhart, but centres his plot firmly around Native American genocide.

The film aims insightfully to be a compelling statement about the horrific abuse that the Osage Nation experienced at the hands of racially motivated white people. De Niro and DiCaprio are excellent, but Gladstone as Mollie – surrounded by deceitful men (including her husband), who behaved appallingly – is exceptional. The movie has a long runtime, which is justified, but the film’s narrative drive gives less than adequate treatment to some of the weighty emotional issues the film raises.

The movie has excellent cinematography, production design, and acting, and impressive direction by Martin Scorsese. Importantly, consultation was held with Indigenous Representatives of the Osage Nation Peoples before the film was released formally.

Paramount Pictures
Released 19 October 2023