Killers of the Flower Moon review: an ugly part of American history exposed

Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon hit theaters at a time when certain factions in America want to erase the sins of the past from history. Martin Scorsese directed this movie, which takes a 3 hour and 28 minute look at one of those sinful episodes. The story involves the Osage people of Oklahoma, who had the rights to the oil rich reservation land and the white men who found a way to steal it from them.

Robert De Niro in Killers of the Flower Moon
The brains

Killers of the Flower Moon has a huge cast and many fine performances. There were three main characters. William Hale (Robert De Niro) was a man who pretended to love the Osage people but was the brains behind the scheme to defraud them of their oil rights. Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) was his nephew, a man who professed to love money. He loved it so much he was willing to kill for it. Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone) was the Osage woman Ernest married in order to inherit her oil rights after her death.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon
The brawn

Many well known actors appeared in this, but in smallish parts. That includes Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser, and Barry Corbin. There were many Native American actors playing the Osage characters.

Jesse Plemons in Killers of the Flower Moon
The law

After agonizing hours watching Osage women be murdered and other crimes in this film, the character I was happy to see arrive was Tom White (Jesse Plemons), a federal lawman sent to investigate all the murders in the Osage Nation. He and his team finally put a stop to the killing and jailed the worst of the bad guys.

This ugly but true story is based on David Grann’s 2017 best-selling book of the same name. While I appreciate learning this history of the American past, I would like to know things that weren’t included in the film.

For example, the Osage people understood what the white men were doing. They sent a delegation to Washington D.C. to ask for help. Mollie Burkhart knew Ernest wanted her money and married him anyway. Lily Gladstone’s outstanding performance convinced me that she actually loved this man and he apparently loved her, even as he tried to kill her.

I wanted to understand Mollie’s thinking. It’s easy to see what William Hale and Ernest Burkhart were up to. Greed is a transparent motivator. Why did Mollie and the other Osage permit this and go along with it? That’s what I wanted to understand. Why were so many Osage women interested in marrying white men?

I feel a six-degrees of separation to this story. Growing up in Colorado in the 1950s I had a high school teacher named George Tall Chief. We all knew about his relative, the famous ballerina. He was an Osage man who later became President of the Osage Nation. The name Tall Chief was even used in the film. When I first heard about the film I planned to skip it, but that long ago connection to an Osage teacher convinced me to watch it.

Killers of the Flower Moon is probably a masterpiece of film making. (Directors like Martin Scorsese get pinned with labels like masterpiece while women directors are ignored.) The direction, the acting, the cast, the powerful story combine to shout excellence. I certainly agree with the impulse to expose more of how our colonial past affected the native population of our country. This is an important story to hear and see. But the film is long and may leave you angry and depressed. In short, I don’t give it a blanket recommendation. It’s a choice every viewer needs to make for themselves.

If you do watch it, I’d like to know how you felt about the film. Please share in the comments.

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