Killers of the Flower Moon

You think three hours and 26 minutes makes for an awfully long movie? You’re right. Yet, Martin Scorsese’s true-crime epic, Killers of the Flower Moon, completely held my attention throughout (trailer). Even though I knew the story, because I’d read the fascinating book by David Grann that the movie is based on, still there were no saggy lulls. It is time well spent.

The New York Times calls it “An Unsettling Masterpiece,” which recounts the terrible outcomes of white men’s unrelenting, murderous greed when oil is quite unexpectedly discovered on the Oklahoma lands that had been considered so worthless they might as well be given to the Osage tribe.

If I had a complaint, it would be that there was too much attention to Robert DeNiro as the “King of the Osage Hills,” cattleman William Hale. (Hale even asks people to call him “King.”) He gives an excellent performance, but, unlike the other characters, he doesn’t change; he’s the same throughout—a malicious, manipulative, avaricious local operator—and you understand him from the beginning.

Leonardo DiCaprio sets aside any vanity and is neither handsome nor savvy in playing Ernest Burkhart, Hale’s nephew. Because the tribe members are deemed incompetent to manage their assets, they are required to have white guardians. A quick way for a white man to become a guardian is to marry an Osage woman, just as Burkhart marries Mollie Kyle, memorably played by Lily Gladstone. Then if the wife dies . . . you can guess the rest.

Thanks to the oil, in the early 1920s, Osage members were the per capita richest people in the world. Much too tempting a target for undereducated, unprincipled roughnecks. Believe me, you’re grateful when Jesse Pelmons as Tom White, an agent of J.Edgar Hoover’s nascent FBI, appears on the scene.

The movie was filmed on a grand scale in Oklahoma, though there are plenty of intimate, emotion-packed moments in which Mollie and Ernest demonstrate real love for each other. Her penetrating gaze recognizes Hale and Burkhart’s schemes, but loves her husband anyway.

The film is dedicated to Robbie Robertson, whose last project was composing its music.

At the beginning, there is what seems an unnecessary statement by Scorsese about why he made this movie. That opening fits when he gives its closing words as well, bookending the film during a creative approach to telling “what happened next.”

The ill-treatment of indigenous people was one of America’s two greatest original sins and, in the arc of history, this sorry episode was not so very long ago.

Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 93%; audiences: 85%.

5 thoughts on “Killers of the Flower Moon

  1. Just want your readers to know that Killers of the Flower Moon will be the first selection of 2024 for the Mystery Book Club. Margaret E. Roche will be moderator. The Mystery Book Club is free to attend and meets on-line the second Wednesday of the month at noon. For more information or to get on the mailing list to receive notices about Mystery Book Club selections, please contact Recordings of Mystery Book Club discussions can be viewed on my youtube channel:

  2. I hope to see this film…my grandfather purchased hundreds of acres in OK because of the oil and had tenant farmers who grew crops on the topsoil. My grandmother, realizing the plight of the women and their pregnancies, began teaching them about birth control. My grandfather died in 2019, when my mother was five, so he must have purchased land several years before her birth. I recall only one story about local Indians–a moccasin was left on a porch and a pie (which was cooling) was taken. A very disturbing, wild time in early OK during and after the Land Run. In hindsight, it’s strange my family didn’t tell more stories about the mistreatment of the tribes, the theft of tribal land. I look forward to learning more. Thank you for the review!

    • In doing my family history, I’ve learned that my ancestors settled on Indian lands in Georgia and Alabama. Pressure from illegal white settlement eventually forced the native peoples out (yes, Trail of Tears). Again, no lore in the family about these episodes.

      • Interesting how our ancestors ignored what was happening…and so far as I know, my grandparents were very moral, well-educated, and thoughtful people…my great-grandmother had a letter from Susan B. Anthony because of her organization for women’s rights in Kansas City (I just donated it to the Library of Congress), so there was awareness of women’s right…Indian rights? Hmm.

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