“History is a merciless judge. It lays bare our tragic blunders and foolish missteps and exposes our most intimate secrets, wielding the power of hindsight like an arrogant detective who seems to know the end of the mystery from the outset”
—David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon
There are certain stories and details that cannot be conveyed in a history textbook; it is only with the shared experiences from the people themselves who witnessed these historical events first-hand do we have any real portrayal of an accurate truth. Such is the case with Martin Scorsese’s latest non-fiction book-to-movie adaptation Killers of the Flower Moon (originally written by David Grann) depicting a tragic example of how certain things in American History are often times forgotten, white-washed, or even erased altogether.
While the film is visually stunning showing panoramic images of Fairfax, Oklahoma throughout and the gorgeous simplicity of the Osage Indian life and spirituality—many characters who are played by actual members of the tribe—the juxtaposition of how dark the story actually is can make one question our “history” altogether: Whose land? Who can be trusted?
The story takes place nearly a century ago in the early 1920s during the heart of the Osage Oil Boom when the Osage people—aka the Chosen People—were the richest per capita on Earth. And as you can imagine the little Oklahoma town became an attraction for American settlers and those who wanted to “make it rich”. But with money and riches always comes infiltrators and bad actors; when newcomers were arriving on the Fairfax Train in hopes of a better life, evil had of course found its way through, too, ending up with a series of inexplicable murders and deaths that shook the Osage Indian Tribe to its core.
Of course there would be no Killers of the Flower Moon without the underlying love story of Mollie (Lily Gladstone) and Ernest Burkheart (Leonardo DiCaprio): a classic tale of a war hero returning home hoping to make it in America falling in love with a beautiful woman at first sight. Starting as a cab driver and by chance coming across one of the well-known women in the town because of her full blood estate, Ernest’s intentions were never really clear as he was not shy about his love for money, but also was never really shy about his love for women, either.
Perhaps it was Ernest’s uncle William Hale (Robert De Niro) that had some sort of influence on his character, always pushing him to marry into money so their family name could reap the benefits for the longterm. There is something particular and uncanny about Hale: always showing up at seemingly the wrong times, his suspiciously calm demeanor, and his shady business deals with people around town that would make one question his loyalty to the Osage Indians.
When people from the Osage Indian Tribe kept mysteriously disappearing, dying, or falling sick to an unknown illness, justice was hardly ever served; it was only when members of the tribe went all the way to Washington DC demanding answers and more investigations into these wrongdoings that anything started to happen. Eventually Tom White (Jessie Plemons) comes to town making a series of connections that start to unravel a shocking (yet not-so-shocking) revelation about who could be responsible for such atrocious crimes.
The combination of De Niro and DiCaprio’s unmatched on-screen chemistry, the perfectly composed score by Robbie Robertson famous for his work with The Band and Bob Dylan with threads of country blues classics from Blind Willie Johnson and Emmett Miller, the authenticity and rituals of the Osage people, and the legendary Scorsese himself makes Killers of the Flower Moon my favorite of his films to date (and really makes it feel like his whole career was meant to direct this movie).
If you genuinely appreciate honorary filmmakers, are a fan of true crime and a challenging story based on true events, or are even just mildly obsessed with men in cowboy hats, then all I ask for you reader is to turn your phone off for 3.5 hours (no cheating!) and get lost in this movie at the theater. By the end you will wish you had 20 more minutes of this once in a lifetime masterpiece.