Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited Killers of the Flower Moon offers a disturbing plunge into a hidden chapter of American history. Adapted from David Grann’s nonfiction book, the film depicts the chilling murders of Osage Nation citizens in 1920s Oklahoma after lucrative oil deposits were discovered beneath their lands. Scorsese brings his exacting style to expose the greed and prejudice that allowed these crimes to occur unchecked for so long.
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I guess I was the only one here that read the book, let’s talk about the movie.
Killers of the Flower Moon retells the disturbing string of murders that befell Osage Nation citizens during the 1910s and 20s in Oklahoma. After oil deposits resulted in immense wealth for the Osage, opportunists began targeting community leaders and landowners.
By the mid 1920s, the death toll rose to over two dozen. Local authorities showed little interest in seriously investigating the deaths, allowing murderers to operate unimpeded.
Finally in 1925, the newly formed FBI took over the case. Their investigation uncovered a complex conspiracy masterminded by prominent local figures who wanted access to the Osage’s oil rights.
Scorsese slowly unravels the layers of corruption and deception. The crimes highlighted the racism that permeated America’s institutions, allowing white killers to brazenly target Native American citizens.
I heard Killers of the Flower Moon is long
At a sprawling runtime of 3 hours and 26 minutes, Killers of the Flower Moon moves at a deliberate pace. But the payoff comes as Scorsese meticulously reconstructs the events, presenting a gripping portrait of corruption and racial injustice. His commitment to authenticity provides a sobering look at a forgotten period when murder was an instrument of greed.
When the film builds to its end that I think will connect better with people watching at home on AppleTV+, the truth comes out. America is violent and our history is marked with the events that defined how the nation as a whole leapt forward. We ground people into our railways, politicians helped brutally attack labor union families and all native people were ripe for relocation at any given time.
But, back to the point. Is Killers of the Flower Moon too long? No. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is too long and louder than hell. Seriously, plan where you stage movies better, AMC. If you can spend hours watching whatever Shondaland or NASCAR craps out, you can watch an indictment on the brutality of early 20th Century America.
Where Killers of the Flower Moon finds its purpose
Ernest Burkhart is a bad man, but he’s a bad man of his times. As morals change and behavioral standards sharpen, modern audiences can look back at the past with the restrictive gaze of a school marm. However, that is a mistake. Burkhart is nothing more than a World War I veteran flunky looking for somewhere to exist. When his uncle William King Hale gives him a place in Oklahoma, that’s all that matters for Ernest.
You don’t fault the henchman for acting on the orders of a criminal mastermind. However, you don’t let them get away with it. Killers of the Flower Moon is Lily Gladstone’s movie through and through. If it wasn’t for Emma Stone’s performance in Poor Things, I would call Gladstone the automatic lock for winning Best Actress.
Some people call DiCaprio’s character and the various cowboys pathetic in Killers of the Flower Moon, but it moves beyond that. These aren’t even broken people at the beginning of the film. They are just rudderless individuals looking for anything that makes them better than what they are, even if that comes at the expense of the Osage.
Let’s talk about the Radio Show ending
Keep an eye and ear out for those Scorsese and Larry Fessenden cameos. But, let’s talk about why they chose to end a 1920s legal drama on a radio show that lumped together the result of everything that happened. Killers of the Flower Moon is about the time when the West ended and America had to decide how we tell the new stories of the frontier.
Cities emerge, people disappear and old wannabe cowboys have to make sense of the brutal old ways and how to exist in a high society. The newspapers sweep the Osage killings under the rug and the Osage women that spoke out die in solitude. I love watching how that ending angered certain people, but look at it. It’s a Perry Mason or Dragnet ending.
It’s indicative of when the Westerns died and we gave way to Radio Dramas and News Reels. Every detail is watered down and thrown away to get the brass tacks. Burkhart and Hale were bad guys and got paroled years after the fact. They did their time and now live away from each other. The BOI became the FBI to better serve these cases at a national level. Hold for applause and start the main feature.
Who is a hero and who gets to tell the story?
The final act provides some catharsis as the FBI brings the ringleaders to justice. But Scorsese emphasizes that few paid an adequate price, while the Osage community was left decimated. Their plight echoes the broken promises and stolen lands that scar America’s relationship with Indigenous peoples.
At age 79, the legendary filmmaker proves he still possesses formidable skills to craft a sprawling historical epic. Killers of the Flower Moon displays his virtuosic ability to choreograph 40s-era cars, chaotic crowd scenes, and palatial mansions on a grand scale.
But the film also demonstrates Scorsese’s maturity, with patient pacing and a somber tone compared to his earlier crime films like Goodfellas. He lets the haunting tale unfold through telling details and moral complexity rather than flashy set pieces.
With credits stretching from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese’s filmography has explored the underbelly of the American experience. Killers of the Flower Moon adds another rich entry by bearing witness to a shameful injustice.
Still, whose story is this to tell?
The big sticking point in the response to Killers of the Flower Moon was how the narrative was constructed. You have a portion of people virtue signalling and wanting an all Indian cast telling a Native American movie in 60 different tribal languages at 6 hours in length. While great for Awards season, it would have made a whopping 20 dollars at the Box Office. Does that mean America is still as racist and evil as the Oil Barons in Killers of the Flower Moon?
No, it’s just reflective on the state of the world. Your moral grandstanding and soapbox stances don’t make good movies. The nature of the motion picture itself is artifice. Since I’m a comic book nerd, I’ll use an example that Old Heads can follow. In an old Legion of Super Heroes comics circa Zero Hour, a 31st Century museum was trying to recreate a museum and exhibits based on the 20th Century.
The details were wrong and looked hokey to modern viewers. However, the gist of it was kinda right. That’s the bias of the modern storyteller, observer and audience trying to take their values and assess them to the past. You might understand right and wrong, but no window is left for intent. This is what a lot of Osage members were talking about these past few weeks after seeing the movie.
Killers of the Flower Moon shows them as capable people, but just victims of a larger machine designed to crush them. It’s just in showing the victimhood, certain Osage seem to think there was a way to show them in a better light. But, how do you show a murdered people in an empowered light? It’s not like Killers of the Flower Moon ended with Lily Gladstone going all Inglorious Basterds on Robert DeNiro. No, it showed what really happened.
Scorsese as historian
Scorsese has begun a chilling final act to his prolific directing career. Killers of the Flower Moon brings a master filmmaker’s skill to expose wounds in history that still fester today. The resulting epic provides a chilling glimpse of depravity enabled by prejudice. Scorsese reminds us of the dangers of forgetting the darkest moments that shaped our country.
However, it also shows what happens to survivors. Lily Gladstone’s Mollie would be dead of diabetes complications during the heart of the Great Depression. President Coolidge never truly supported her plight and her family and one of the kids were gone. Sometimes, there aren’t heroes….there are just cautionary tales.
Scorsese has dabbled in and out of the history of America and the world in past films. Everything from Boxcar Bertha to Goodfellas to The Age of Innocence to Kundun to The Aviator to Silence is Scorsese realizing history through the camera lens. But, they are all fantasies. Killers of the Flower Moon is the first Scorsese movie to attempt to show the reality before it became film fodder.
If The Wager never happens and this is the last Scorsese film
Killers of the Flower Moon is quite the movie to end your career on and few people have the authority to do it. Spielberg couldn’t make this movie and neither could Coppola. There is something about living in the film language of history and violence for decades that makes this your arena. People might moan about Scorsese on TikTok making videos with his youngest daughter. He has earned that right.
An 80 year old cinematic master should be reflective on their career, life and remaining time. If Scorsese said Killers of the Flower Moon is the end and see you all later, more power to him. What we expect of artists is often of commercial underpinnings.
In an era when the Golden Years set have to plead and scrape to get audiences to take a trip away from streaming and the MCU, we should respect the last stands of the masters. After all, the start of the blockbuster era saw talents from Cukor to Donan and Huston struggle for equal gasps of air. Appreciate what you have while you have it. Reaction videos in 30 years from now will be envious of your opportunity to watch Killers of the Flower Moon fresh in theaters.