Killers of the Flower Moon – movie review

Martin Scorsese’s new film Killers of the Flower Moon is a Western crime drama set in Oklahoma in the 1920s. Based on fact, it looks at the serial murder of native Americans living on oil-rich land.

After arriving home from WWI, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), moves in with his wealthy cattle rancher uncle, William King Hale (Robert De Niro). Ernest begins working as a driver for King, as he is known. His older brother Bryan (Scott Shepherd) is already on the payroll. King rules the roost in this neck of the woods and makes out that he is considerate, caring and generous to the Native American from the Osage Nation. But what he is really interested in is the untold wealth that sits within the community.

They became some of the richest people in the world overnight in 1894, after oil was discovered on their land. King is constantly maneuvering to get his grubby paws on a fortune. In the first instance, that involves Ernest marrying into the family of a native. Everything falls into King’s hands, as Ernest finds himself chauffeuring Mollie (Lily Gladstone) and the pair takes a shine to each other. When the inevitable happens and the two get hitched, King’s nefarious plans are cemented. Manipulating Ernest, King impresses on him that Mollie, her sisters and mother are not long for this world. Their life expectancy is already shorter than the white man’s and King sees to it that he hastens their demise. Although Ernest loves his wife, who suffers from diabetes, he gets deeper and deeper into the mire, aiding his uncle’s plans to secure rich pickings.

Scorsese has crafted a compelling, if stretched film (its running time is three hours 26 minutes). The screenplay by Eric Roth and Scorsese is based on the book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.

Robert De Niro is at his dominant best as the puppet master. He imposes himself on the film from his first scene and doesn’t let up. It’s an assured portrayal of a man who believes he can get away with anything. Leonardo DiCaprio, too, is his solid and reliable acting self, as he immerses himself in the characterisation of a man who knows which way his bread is buttered. Mind you, he deliberately depicts Ernest as not the smartest tool in the shed. My only qualm in his performance is DiCaprio’s over-reliance on a downturned lip and scowl. Less would have been more in that regard. Most impressive is Lily Gladstone in the quiet restraint she brings to her portrayal of a proud Osage woman. She is nothing if not respectful.

The production design by Jack Fisk is superb. It feels like an authentic step back in time. Also striking is the cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, which includes stunning visual effects.

Killers of the Flower Moon is a quality production that brings to life an ugly chapter in American history, one driven by greed. In closing, I should elaborate the flower moon of the title. The term references the first full moon that occurs in May in the Northern Hemisphere, when everything is in bloom. That pretty picture doesn’t last long, as summer arrives. One of the early murders in the film happens around May 1921; so the flower-killing moon becomes a metaphor for what happens to the Osage people.

Killers of the Flower Moon is out in cinemas now and will then stream on Apple TV+

Alex First

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