Thursday, October 19, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon

Evil in film is often overt, larger than life. A clown torturing children. A giant monster trampling cities. A high-priced killer or alien leaving a trail of bodies in its wake. Real evil, however, is more insidious. Killing with a smile, insidiously operating with no compunction or fear of reprisal. Adapted by Martin Scorsese and Eric Roth from the book of the same name, Killers of the Flower Moon centers around the Osage Indian murders in the early 20th Century.

For nothing more than greed, a large number of Native Americans died under suspicious circumstances allowing white men in the area to gather lucrative rights and royalties tied to the rich mineral deposits that made the tribe so tremendously wealthy. Those who killed did so without hesitation or regret, never seeing their actions and evil or immoral.  With many deaths being misreported or covered up between 1918 and 1931 it's unclear just how many murders occurred as some estimates put it in the hundreds. And it's this kind of evil which drives the events of Killers of the Flower Moon.

The film begins with arrival of likable but somewhat dimwitted Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) who goes to work for his uncle William King Hale (Robert De Niro) who, despite his friendly nature with the locals, is one of those spearheading the murders. As with others tied to Hale, Ernest was encouraged to court and marry a Native American woman (Lily Gladstone) tying their fortunes to that of the tribe. Of course, once the rights were in white hands what happened to the Native American spouse became less important. 

The cruelty on display in under the guise of friendship, family, or even love hits home early and often in the film. That mixed with the utter gall under which events occurred makes the film mesmerizing to behold. Originally, the script of the Federal investigator was written for DiCaprio with the investigation taking a much larger chunk of the film. His insistence on playing Ernest shifted the focus of the film to seeing events from the inside and allowing the investigation to play a much smaller role and provide the space for a much more personal story to unfold.

Cast and crew are all on top of their game here with DiCaprio, Gladstone, and Scorsese as the most likely to earn awards nominations. And their performances are enriched by the incredible story of frontier greed and death on an alarming scale. This is cinema, and Scorsese is in top form. And the film has style, as seen in the completely unexpected epilogue that provides the basic information of what happened next to this cast of characters, usually presented with some simple text on-screen but here offered up in the most entertaining way possible while not loosing sight of the gut-wrenching seriousness of events. It may be only October, but it looks like the race for Best Picture may have already begun.

Watch the trailer
  • Title: Killers of the Flower Moon
  • IMDb: link

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