Killers of the Flower Moon

Finally getting Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro in the same feature alongside a stunning performance from Lily Gladstone, Martin Scorsese has made another masterpiece.
Sarah Ward
Published on October 19, 2023


UPDATE, Friday, January 12, 2024: Killers of the Flower Moon streams via Apple TV+ from Friday, January 12, and via Google Play, YouTube Movies and Prime Video.


Death comes to Killers of the Flower Moon quickly. Death comes to Killers of the Flower Moon often. While Martin Scorsese will later briefly fill the film's frames with a fiery orange vision — with what almost appears to be a lake of flames deep in oil country, as dotted with silhouettes of men — death blazes through his 26th feature from the moment that the picture starts rolling. Adapted from journalist David Grann's 2017 non-fiction novel Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, with the filmmaker himself and Dune's Eric Roth penning the screenplay, this is a masterpiece of a movie about a heartbreakingly horrible spate of deaths sparked by pure and unapologetic greed and persecution a century back. Scorsese's two favourite actors in Leonardo DiCaprio (Don't Look Up) and Robert De Niro (Amsterdam) are its stars, alongside hopefully his next go-to in Lily Gladstone (Reservation Dogs), but murder and genocide are as much at its centre — all in a tale that's devastatingly true.

As Mollie Kyle, a member of the Osage Nation in Grey Horse, Oklahoma, incomparable Certain Women standout Gladstone talks through some of the movie's homicides early. Before her character meets DiCaprio's World War I veteran Ernest Burkhart — nephew to De Niro's cattle rancher and self-proclaimed 'king of the Osage' William King Hale — she notes that several Indigenous Americans that have been killed, with Mollie mentioning a mere few to meet untimely ends. There's nothing easy about this list, nor is there meant to be. Some are found dead, others seen laid out for their eternal rest, and each one delivers a difficult image. But a gun fired at a young mother pushing a pram inspires a shock befitting a horror film. The genre fits here, in its way, as do many others: American crime saga, aka the realm that Scorsese has virtually made his own, as well as romance, relationship drama, western, true crime and crime procedural.

Although this chapter of history has hardly been splashed across the screen with frequency, its new place among the iconic director's filmography helps him to continue making a statement that he's been beaming at audiences for most of his filmmaking life. The specifics differ from flick to flick, but Scorsese keeps surveying the appallingly corrupt and violent deeds done in the pursuit of power, wealth and influence. He constantly peers into humanity's souls, seeing some of its worst impulses staring back. Indeed, there's no doubting that Killers of the Flower Moon hails from the same person as Goodfellas, Casino and Gangs of New York, or The Wolf of Wall Street and The Irishman, too. It also easily belongs on a filmography with entries as varied as Raging Bull, The Age of Innocence, Kundun, The Departed and Shutter Island. Between them, DiCaprio and De Niro have starred in most of those movies. Now, they combine for the first time in a Scorsese feature to basically rekindle their This Boy's Life dynamic from three decades back, all while plumbing the depths of money-coveting men chasing land rights, aka Osage headrights, through a cruel, brutal and disarmingly patient plan.

"The finest, the wealthiest and the most beautiful people on god's earth" is how Hale describes the Osage Nation to Ernest when the latter is freshly back on US soil, off the train in Fairfax and getting reacquainted with his uncle. Those riches stem from being pushed out of Kansas, resettled, then striking black gold in a stroke of good fortune that brings more misfortune. Hale wants a piece and more, and gets seemingly every other white man in Oklahoma joining his pursuit. In an extraordinary performance, De Niro gives Hale quietly formidable potency — the kind that doesn't need raised voices or a weapon to command a room, evoke unease and enforce his might. Scorsese lets the outwardly supportive, not-so-privately manipulative town anchor become the open villain almost instantly. Killers of the Flower Moon isn't a whodunnit, but rather a living-with-knowing-who's-doing-it film. It tells its atrocity-filled tale about evil in plain sight carefully, exactingly and unhurriedly — earning each and every one of its 206 minutes — with narrative inevitably breeding suspense and emotional tension.

Sporting an injured gut from combat, Ernest turns to chauffeuring to make a living under Hale's wing. When he begins driving the graceful and stately Mollie, his uncle has already laid out his scheme to get Osage property and wealth gushing their family's way. Still, everything about Ernest and Mollie's romance is genuine. DiCaprio and Gladstone are exquisite, including when their characters are flirting over cab rides and storm-backdropped sips of whiskey, resting their foreheads together in a gesture that gets them saying everything without saying anything, and stealing other silently happy moments. But the bodies keep mounting, with many of Mollie's nearest and dearest — such as her sisters Minnie (Jillian Dion, Alaska Daily), Anna (Cara Jade Myers, Rutherford Falls) and Reta (Janae Collins, Reservation Dogs), plus their mother Lizzie Q (Tantoo Cardinal, Three Pines) — in Hale's way.

While the gangster-film label mightn't fit Killers of the Flower Moon as neatly as Mean Streets and company, this is still a gangster film. Scorsese is in his element, not that he's ever been out of it on any feature that isn't a gangster flick — but that's never the only place that he wants to be. As cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Barbie) lenses both the eye-catching landscape and dark interiors, editor Thelma Schoonmaker (who has done his splicing since Raging Bull) gives the movie its meticulous pacing and the now-late Robbie Robertson (who starred in Scorsese music documentary The Last Waltz as part of The Band) imparts a slinkily propulsive beat amid a pitch-perfectly anxious score, this is also a movie of blistering anger and interrogation. As the saga of Ernest, Mollie, Hale and pervasive death always thrums at its core, so does a reckoning. Killers of the Flower Moon carves into the injustices of America's past, plus their impact upon the present, to stress the blood and bones that the US was built upon. It sees how much about today ties back to its tragedy of oppression and slaughter, how distressingly familiar this situation is around the world and, in a stunner of a coda, how such realities are regularly exploited rather than addressed.

Bold and brilliant, epic yet intimate, ambitious and absorbing, as meaningful as it is monumental, a quintessential Martin Scorsese movie: every single one applies to Killers of the Flower Moon. It's also rich and riveting in each touch and instant, from building its lived-in portrait of the 1920s midwest to the magnificent cast that also spans Jesse Plemons (Love & Death) as a federal investigator — even if the Birth of the FBI part of the feature's source material is scaled down — and both John Lithgow (Sharper) and Brendan Fraser (The Whale) as lawyers. Three and a half hours almost doesn't seem long enough to spend revelling in this superbly complicated film, or to confront the many difficult truths explored. It definitely isn't long enough with its three outstanding key players, who each turn in shattering portrayals whether playing it slick, nervy or soulful. Killers of the Flower Moon is steeped in so much heartwrenching death, and unforgettably so, yet it could't have been better brought to on-screen life.


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