Review: Killers of the Flower Moon


Martin Scorsese is famous for his crime films. They may be contemporary (“The Irishman”), or from two centuries ago (“Gangs of New York”), but they are always entertaining and filled with superb performances. This film is an exception.

Long awaited, it is a disappointment that does not do justice to its source material – the nonfiction history of the vile manipulation and murder of many suddenly wealthy Osage Nation Indians, written by David Grann.

The movie, like the book, details the white residents of Fairfax, Oklahoma, plotting to take advantage of the sudden oil wealth of the Osage people. First, they marry into the native families, then they begin killing them. Chief among these plotters, and perhaps most perfidious because he masquerades as a friend and benefactor, is William Hale (Robert De Niro – “The Irishman”). Already a wealthy rancher, he schemes to have the women of the Kyle family first wed, then murdered, consolidating the oil wealth inheritance in his nephew, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio – “The Aviator”).

Also involved in the conspiracy are Ernest’s brother, Byron (Scott Shepherd – “Dark Phoenix”), and a host of lesser amoral individuals.

Among their many victims are Molly Kyle (Lily Gladstone – “First Cow”), and her mother Lizzie (Tantoo Cardinal – “Wind River”). Molly survives and perseveres, including going to Washington, D.C., and getting President Coolidge to involve the FBI in the deaths. Agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons – “Power of the Dog”) is sent to investigate and the scheme falls apart.

There are some powerful performances in this film. De Niro brings a truly disgusting hypocrisy to his performance as William Hale. While he kills the Osage for money he doesn’t need, he cossets them with his false sympathy and pretended support. His brutality extends beyond his wealthy victims to any white person who might stand in his way. At the same time, he is convincing his nephew, Ernest Burkhart, of the rightness of killing off the weak Osage for their money. It isn’t hard because Ernest is lazy and “loves money.”

Lily Gladstone is a powerful but understated personality as Ernest’s Osage wife, and the last of her family.

On the other hand, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jesse Plemons are wasted in their parts. Both are fine actors capable of excellent performances when the material and the direction take advantage of their gifts – that does not happen here.

This is a very long film, really too long for the material. The story has been restructured by Scorsese to present more of the Osage, their plight and their customs. That is good. But too much time is spent on the white element, including the venality of Hale and the weakling anguish of Burkhart.

Martin Scorsese is 82 years old, and who knows how many more films are in him (some, if Clint Eastwood’s incredible career is an example). Scorsese needs to go out on a higher note than that achieved by “Killers of the Flower Moon.”


Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Martin Scorsese, Eric Roth
Producers: Martin Scorsese, Dan Friedkin, Daniel Lupi, Bradley Thomas
Cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto
Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker
Music: Robbie Robertson
Runtime: Three hours, 26 minutes

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