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Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon
While the point-of-view is still predominantly told from that white settlers, Martin Scorsese does attempt to give the Osage people voices in the story, illuminating a part of United States history that most would rather forget.

Killers of the Flower Moon

Release Date: October 20, 2023
Runtime: 03:26
Synopsis:
When oil is discovered in 1920s Oklahoma under Osage Nation land, the Osage people are murdered one by one – until the FBI steps in to unravel the mystery.

Table of Contents

A man and his Osage wife are at the centre of a series of murders in 1920s Oklahoma in . After oil was found on their Oklahoma reservation, the Osage people became wealthy from the development that happened in the county. After returning from the First World War, Ernest Burkhart () comes to live on the ranch of his uncle, William King Hale (). Outwardly, King presents himself as a friendly benefactor of the Osage and has no issue when Ernerst meets and marries local Osage woman Mollie Kyle (), whose family owns significant oil headrights. However, when members of Mollie's family begin getting murdered, whose deaths are secretly orchestrated by King with the assistance of Ernest, it attracts the attention of Tom White (), an agent from the newly formed Federal Borough of Investigation.

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Killers of the Flower Moon Synopsis

Killers of the Flower Moon is a Western crime drama co-written and directed by (The Irishman), based on the 2017 nonfiction book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann. The film stars Leonard DiCaprio as the morally grey protagonist, Ernest Burkhart. Even though Ernest truly loves his wife Mollie, played by Lily Gladstone (First Cow), he is encouraged to participate in crimes against the Osage with his brother Byron (). Ernest also finds himself in a plot orchestrated by his uncle, William King Hale, to systemically kill off the Osage and gain control of their oil headrights. This drives a wedge as Ernest has to choose between the love of his wife and his duty to his uncle.

My Thoughts on Killers of the Flower Moon

While developing an adaptation of the original book, Martin Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth (Dune, A Star is Born) decided to refocus the story's perspective from that of FBI agent Tom White, originally to have been played by Leonardo DiCaprio, to that of Ernest Burkhart. This decision was ultimately right since it made the tragedy of the Osage murders more front and centre. While Tom White, now played by Jesse Pemons, still appears in the film, it is not until two-thirds through Killers of the Flower Moon's nearly three-and-a-half-hour running time.

While the point-of-view of Killers of the Flower Moon is still predominantly told from that of white settlers, Martin Scorsese does attempt to give the Osage people voices in the story. This is most apparent during a council scene where an Osage elder, played by one of the real consultants for the film, talks about how the murders are a consequence of the Osage accepting the white man's money. Similarly, Lily Gladstone's performance as Mollie Burkhart is the true heart of the film, as she is often filled with sorrow and anger from all the deaths around her and the fear that she might become a future victim.

Much debate has been about whether the 3h26 minute runtime of Killers of the Flower Moon is necessary. However, I believe that the film is as long as it needs to be, with Martin Scorsese taking the time to develop the characters before the tragedy of the murders begins in earnest. Each hour of the film marks roughly a different act of the story, starting with Ernest Burkhart's initial courtship of Mollie and climaxing with the investigation and trial, featuring memorable cameos by and as Prosecutor Peter Leaward and defence attorney W.S. Hamilton respectively.

I also have to note that Martin Scorsese provides an interesting twist of the typical “based on a true story” postscript by presenting them as being narrated by the hosts of a true crime radio drama. This includes Scorsese himself making an onscreen cameo, giving probably the most heartbreaking fact to come from this story. Ultimately, while it's not perfect, Killers of Flower Moon illuminates a part of United States history that most would rather forget.

Trailer for Killers of the Flower Moon

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.