The vagaries of history form a fascinating backdrop to Killers of the Flower Moon, a sprawling film based on fact, and set during a dark chapter in American history.
The Osage tribe were forced by the United States to Indian Territory in Oklahoma in the 19th century but, in the early 20th century, oil was discovered on their new land. They had retained communal mineral rights, and their wealth rocketed above that of most American communities. However, as a result, they suffered manipulation, fraud and numerous murders by outsiders.
The film, directed by Martin Scorsese, is based on David Grann’s novel inspired by those events. Scorsese creates a vivid and immersive world that is both beautiful and disturbing. The film is visually stunning, with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto capturing the beauty of the Oklahoma landscape as well as the brutality of the violence that took place there and the evil of many of the outsiders who preyed on the Osage.
The film opens with Ernest Burkhart, Leonardo DiCaprio, returning from the First World War to work on the Osage lands for his uncle, who had carved out a small empire of his own there, thanks to manipulating the tribe. His performance is excellent but could have been more nuanced for a man who is haunted by the violence he had witnessed and manipulated into the manipulations of his uncle.
Robert De Niro is superb as Burkhart’s uncle William Hale, the powerful white rancher who is suspected of being involved in the murders. Lily Gladstone is heartbreaking as the dignified Osage woman Mollie Burkhart, Ernest’s wife, who suffers trauma after trauma.
The film is a powerful indictment of the racism and greed that fueled the murders, revealing how the justice system was used to protect the perpetrators of these crimes. When a federal agent arrives to investigate,
Over three hours long, Killers of the Flower Moon is a slow-burning film that takes its time to build up, even as it depicts murder after murder. While it allows Scorsese to create a rich and detailed world, its elegiac cinematography softens the impact of the disturbing story.