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The 500 Club: Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Following the success of Martin Scorsese’s 2019 film, The Irishman, he strayed from his classic mobster genre, and it’s very refreshing he did. In his new film, Killers of the Flower Moon, he created a narrative depicting horrible violence, showing mediocre representation, yet it is a captivating testimonial to the human condition. Plus, you can’t go wrong with DiCaprio.

The film is based on the 2017 true crime book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, which depicts the incessant murders of the Osage people in 1920s Oklahoma. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart, a dim middle-aged white man who travels to Oklahoma to live with his brother and uncle, William “King” Hale, played by Robert De Niro. Soon after Ernest arrives at his uncle’s cattle ranch, he learns of the Osage community and their lucrative oil rights. Mollie Kyle, played by Lily Gladstone, is an Osage woman whose family has rights to that oil money. King encourages his nephew to woo and marry her to access her family’s wealth. The rest of the film deals with the conniving and killing directed at the Osage community to feed the greed of the opportunistic white interlopers.

Image via Cambridge Day

Martin Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth did a good job returning the audience to Ernest and Mollie’s relationship throughout the film. Their new romance is portrayed as budding and innocent during the film’s first quarter. But the audience senses Ernest’s impure motives. Innocence wears off as the film progresses with more focus on family and the dying Osage. “Do you still love me?,” a sickly Mollie asks her husband after sensing an emotional distance. Ernest exemplifies how love cannot, in fact, conquer all. In this case, greed overpowered love from the very beginning. 

Racism also impacts relationship dynamics in the film. Prevalent in Mollie and Ernest’s relationship, it is also present in the majority of white and Osage interactions. King, Ernest’s uncle, is a perfect example. Despite being the mastermind behind Ernest’s ruse with Mollie and her family, he is a leader in the community who has befriended many Osage residents. However, not enough to stop him from betraying them. 

The biggest problem with the film is the representation of the Osage population. In their own story, they were minimized to the point that the story centered around the white power players. This is a story about white men capitalizing on Osage people’s vulnerability. All of the Osage characters, except Mollie, are underdeveloped. Despite this, it is appreciated that this is a film about a hardly discussed chapter of American history. It feels like a step in the right direction for cinema.   

Image via Vanity Fair

The outstanding performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone were the primary reason I loved the film. We know that DiCaprio is one of the best actors to date, and in this movie, we see why. His ability to embody complex and diverse motives is remarkable. I was pleasantly surprised by the relatable strength Gladstone, a relative newcomer to larger productions, shows as Mollie. The authentic costumes and realistic set design transport the viewer to the rural 1920s America. This film is an investment at almost three and a half hours, but it is visually stunning, moving, impactful and worth your time.

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ is currently playing at FilmScene in Iowa City, as of November 13th, 2023.

The 500 Club seeks to provide concise film reviews and criticism at around a cool 500 words for your viewing pleasure.