Monday, December 25, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon: Movie Review

An important and tragic moment in American history full of greed, racism and corruption.

Killers of the Flower Moon is based on a true story about a series of murders of Osage Native Americans in Osage County, Oklahoma in the 1920s. I would like to say shocking true story because it’s almost hard to believe that this actually happened, but knowing the racism at the time, it’s unfortunately rather easy to believe. The elements propelling the story forward are money, greed and racism. All of which are unsurprising motivators for murder.   2023

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Screenplay by: Eric Roth, Martin Scorsese, and David Grann

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone

Perhaps it’s fair to say that it’s surprising that this story isn’t better known. All of the very famous serial killers and crime bosses in American history that are talked about regularly, how is William Hale not one of them? I don’t mean to get ahead of myself but I would hope that from the opening scene it’s clear that Robert De Niro’s “King” Bill Hale is not a good guy.

The action of the movie starts just after the Osage people discover oil on their land and become very wealthy due to owning mineral rights of their land. However, at the time, 1921, Native Americans were not considered full citizens of the United States and they required White guardians to oversee their money and transactions. Soon thereafter arrives a horde of White men ready to marry or guide the Osage people out of their own money, and as it turns out, their lives as well.

Ernest Hale (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the nephew of Bill Hale, the equivalent of a mob boss, who has befriended every Osage he could and has become guardian of a lot of money. The problem when rich evil people get money is that no amount of money is enough, there is always a way to get more money depending on how psychopathic you’re willing to act.

Ernest is a good-looking young man just returned from war and needs a job. He’s presented as dumb, not all that well-liked by his uncle, but a malleable young man who will do as he’s told but appears to be genuine when he makes connections with other people.

Bill plants the idea that Ernest should marry Mollie (Lily Gladstone), a member of a rich Osage family full of single women. Ernest really likes Mollie, she’s beautiful, fiercely independent, but will remain soft-spoken even when faced with tragedy. It doesn’t take long for love to bloom and we have an epic about the history of Osage county, filled with murder, greed, racism and corruption. How much death can one community face before the government steps in to help? The answer is a lot.

The vivid recreation of the era is breathtaking, unsurprising for a Scorsese epic. The editing has some weird moments; jumps to slides or still photographs that characters are looking at or perhaps just thinking about, meant to give some background to the racism of the era, which distracts more than helps. The ending also jumps to a moment very reminiscent of now when J Edgar Hoover made the FBI files available to be made into true crime radio plays. A horrific period of American history was made solely to entertain people. The production of the radio play geared more towards laughter than education. Which is a very cynical note to end the movie on, but today’s society doesn’t deserve anything better. A society where Indigenous women are missing or murdered by the hundreds each year and governments still don’t do anything, a society where capitalism is rewarded, and true crime podcasts recreating people’s tragedies for entertainment purposes are the most popular media form around.

One of the Best of 2023