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“Can you find the wolves in this picture,” Ernest Burkhardt ( Leonardo DiCaprio ) reads aloud as he works his way through a children’s book early in Martin Scorsese ’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The wolves aren’t really hidden at all, and they won’t be in the film that follows either, a masterful historical drama about evil operating in plain sight. One of the most disturbing things about Scorsese’s ambitious adaptation of David Grann ’s non-fiction book of the same name is how little of its vile behavior stays in the shadows. This is the story of men who treated murder almost mundanely, issuing orders to have people killed like they would order a drink at the bar. Scorsese walks that fine line between telling a very specific story of a couple at the heart of a tragedy and commenting on the larger nature of evil. The wolves in "Killers of the Flower Moon" don’t hesitate to think that what they’re doing might be wrong as long as it profits them in the end.  

After being pushed off their property to the presumed wasteland of Oklahoma around the turn of the last century, the Osage Nation was stunned to find itself the recipient of the earthly gift of oil, making them the wealthiest group of people in the country per capita relatively overnight. Naturally, the people who had claimed a country they never owned wanted a piece of this action, leading to a battle for land in the region, a conflict that turned a man named William King Hale ( Robert De Niro ) into a legend. While just a cattle baron himself, Hale was a kingmaker in the Osage region. He was able to play the political games that made him an ally to both the Osage and the white people in the area while working behind the scenes to line his pockets. De Niro gives one of the best performances of his career as a man who prefers to be called "King," rivetingly capturing the kind of sociopath who can sell murder with a smile. He doesn’t stab you in the back. He looks you in the eyes as he does it.

Hale senses someone easily manipulated in his nephew Ernest, who has returned home from the war, ready to be a good soldier for a new cause. Ernest starts as a driver in the area for the wealthy Osage, which leads him to Mollie ( Lily Gladstone ). The two marry just before Mollie’s family and other members of the Osage population are murdered one after another. Mollie’s sister Anna ( Cara Jade Myers ), who is married to Ernest’s brother Bryan ( Scott Shepherd ), is found shot by a creek on the same day that another Osage Nation man is shot. Mollie loses a sister to something called “Wasting Disease,” and discovers that she has diabetes herself, leading to bedrest that makes her an easy target for the evil growing in this region, possibly even in the heart of her husband.

Ernest, Mollie, and Hale are the trio around which everything in Eric Roth & Scorsese’s script orbits. But this tapestry of a historical drama is populated with dozens of other memorable characters and familiar faces, including Jesse Plemons as a BOI agent who would lead the investigation into the Osage murders,  John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser as conflicting attorneys in the case, Tantoo Cardinal as Mollie’s mother, and a fascinating array of musicians turned actors that include Charlie Musselwhite, Sturgill Simpson , Pete Yorn , Jack White , and a memorable Jason Isbell , who gets a juicy role as Bill Smith , a brother-in-law of Ernest who could be trouble. 

“Killers of the Flower Moon” may not be a traditional gangster picture, but it's completely in tune with the stories of corrupt, violent men that Scorsese has explored for a half-century. And yet there’s also a sense of age in Scorsese’s work here, the feeling that he's using this horrifying true story to interrogate how we got to where we are a hundred years later. How did we allow blood to fertilize the soil of this country? Scorsese and Roth took a book that’s essentially about the formation of the F.B.I. by way of the investigation into the Osage murders and shifted the storytelling to a more personal perspective for both Mollie and Ernest. Through their story, the film doesn’t just present injustice but reveals how intrinsic it was to the formation of wealth and inequity in this country. It hums with commentary on how this nonchalant violence against people deemed lesser pervaded a century of horror. The references to the Tulsa Massacre and the KKK aren’t incidental. It's all part of the big picture—one of people who subjugate because it's so easy for them to do so.

Of course, Scorsese's visions don’t work without his team of collaborators, and he’s brought in some of the best to tell this tale. Rodrigo Prieto ’s cinematography is sweeping when it needs to capture the vast territory of the Osage Nation but can also be intense with a sweaty close-up. Robbie Robertson ’s thrumming score is practically a character, giving the film a heartbeat that adds tension to its notable runtime. This story wouldn't have nearly the same momentum with a traditional, classical score. Finally, Thelma Schoonmaker is partially responsible for Scorsese’s sense of rhythm as director, and “Killers of the Flower Moon” is one of her most notable accomplishments. Some will crack jokes about the editing given the runtime of Scorsese’s longest film but think of the scope of this multi-year saga and how deftly Schoonmaker helps pace the final piece, pushing us forward through our nation’s violent history without ever losing the thread of this complex saga.

As for performance, there’s inherent power to seeing Scorsese’s two muses act opposite each other for the first time since " This Boy's Life " as De Niro and DiCaprio fuel each other’s performances with what's basically another tale of an abusive father. But Gladstone will be the revelation for most people. The standout of “ Certain Women ” knows exactly how to play this role, never leaning into melodrama and always grounding her character in the truth of the moment instead of playing a stand-in for all Indigenous victims. There are times when it feels like “Killers of the Flower Moon” could spin out into a broader political statement, but the performances, especially Gladstone’s, keep the film in the truth of character. The whole ensemble understands this element, playing the reality of the situation instead of treating it like a history lesson. Mollie Burkhardt didn’t know her saga would help found the FBI or bring light to injustice a century later. She just wanted to survive and love like so many who were robbed of those basic human rights.

In the end, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is like a puzzle—each creative piece does its part to form the complete picture. When it’s put together, it’s depressingly easy to see the wolves. The question now is, what do we do when we find them?

In theaters on October 20 th and on Apple TV+ at a later date.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

Rated R for violence, some grisly images, and language.

206 minutes

Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart

Robert De Niro as William King Hale

Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart

Jesse Plemons as Tom White

Tantoo Cardinal as Lizzie Q

Cara Jade Myers as Anna Kyle Brown

JaNae Collins as Rita

Jillian Dion as Minnie

William Belleau as Henry Roan

Louis Cancelmi as Kelsie Morrison

Tatanka Means as John Wren

Michael Abbott Jr. as Agent Frank Smith

Pat Healy as Agent John Burger

Scott Shepherd as Bryan Burkhart

Jason Isbell as Bill Smith

Sturgill Simpson as Henry Grammer

John Lithgow as Prosecutor Peter Leaward

Brendan Fraser as W.S. Hamilton

  • Martin Scorsese

Writer (book)

  • David Grann

Cinematographer

  • Rodrigo Prieto
  • Thelma Schoonmaker
  • Robbie Robertson

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Killers of the Flower Moon

2023, Crime/Drama, 3h 26m

What to know

Critics Consensus

Enormous in runtime, theme, and achievement, Killers of the Flower Moon is a sobering appraisal of America's relationship with Indigenous peoples and yet another artistic zenith for Martin Scorsese and his collaborators. Read critic reviews

Audience Says

Strong acting, gorgeous cinematography, and a powerful story keep Killers of the Flower Moon engrossing in spite of its slower pace and extreme length. Read audience reviews

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Killers of the flower moon videos, killers of the flower moon   photos.

Based on David Grann's broadly lauded best-selling book, "Killers of the Flower Moon" is set in 1920s Oklahoma and depicts the serial murder of members of the oil-wealthy Osage Nation, a string of brutal crimes that came to be known as the Reign of Terror.

Rating: R (Some Grisly Images|Language|Violence)

Genre: Crime, Drama

Original Language: English

Director: Martin Scorsese

Producer: Martin Scorsese , Dan Friedkin , Bradley Thomas , Daniel Lupi

Writer: Eric Roth , Martin Scorsese

Release Date (Theaters): Oct 20, 2023  wide

Release Date (Streaming): Dec 5, 2023

Box Office (Gross USA): $67.3M

Runtime: 3h 26m

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Production Co: Appian Way, Apple Studios, Sikelia Productions, Imperative Entertainment

Sound Mix: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital

Aspect Ratio: Digital 2.39:1

Cast & Crew

Leonardo DiCaprio

Ernest Burkhart

Robert De Niro

William Hale

Jesse Plemons

Lily Gladstone

Mollie Burkhart

Tantoo Cardinal

John Lithgow

Prosecutor Leaward

Cara Jade Myers

Anna Kyle Brown

Brendan Fraser

W.S. Hamilton

Janae Collins

Jillian Dion

William Belleau

Louis Cancelmi

Tatanka Means

Michael Abbott Jr.

Scott Shepherd

Jason Isbell

Sturgill Simpson

Martin Scorsese

Screenwriter

Dan Friedkin

Bradley Thomas

Daniel Lupi

Executive Producer

Adam Somner

Marianne Bower

Lisa Frechette

John Atwood

Shea Kammer

Rodrigo Prieto

Cinematographer

Thelma Schoonmaker

Film Editing

Robbie Robertson

Original Music

Production Design

Jordan Crockett

Art Director

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Critic’s Pick

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ Review: An Unsettling Masterpiece

Martin Scorsese’s three-and-a-half-hour epic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is a romance, a western, a whodunit and a lesson in the bloody history of the Osage murders of the 1920s.

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Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in Western 1920s hats and jackets speaking to each other while De Niro sits in an old automobile.

By Manohla Dargis

There’s a scene in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” when the screen fills with men toiling in what looks like a lake of fire. Inky silhouettes in a red-orange void, they look like Boschian imps, but these are ordinary men in a hell of human making. It’s a rightly apocalyptic image for this cruel and baroque American story of love, murder, greed and unspeakable betrayal in 1920s Indian Country, a true-crime epic that Scorsese — with grace, sorrow and sublime filmmaking clarity — has turned into a requiem for the country.

This may seem like strange territory for Scorsese, with his New York wiseguys and street corners. Yet he has always ranged wide and far in his work, from the Roman Empire in “The Last Temptation of Christ” to 1930s Tibet in “Kundun” and then home again for the 1980s and ’90s of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” During his wanderings, Scorsese has never strayed far from Hollywood or rather its filmmaking foundations, which he has helped keep alive through his tireless advocacy for the art, though principally by doing what all great artists do: by reinvigorating and reinventing forms, and making them his own.

Throughout, Scorsese has also reminded you that there are many ways to tell stories, including about evil. This one, set largely on the Osage Reservation in northern Oklahoma, revisits a history of violence as fraught and bloody as that of the United States itself. The crimes it primarily recounts trace back to 1921 (there were earlier killings), and involved the murder of several dozen Osage (there may have been many more victims). Some were shot, others were blown up, while still others died from an enigmatic wasting illness, though were likely poisoned. The era is often referred to as the Osage Reign of Terror, an odd description that wrongly implies the Osage were somehow responsible for the horrors perpetrated on them.

Scorsese, who shares screenplay credit with Eric Roth, has given this story both scale and intimacy. This is a big, bigger-than-life movie with sweeping vistas and soaring camerawork, but one that incessantly shifts from bright, wide-open spaces to interiors as shadowy as their inhabitants. First among the richly populated cast is Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a war veteran who, when he steps off a steam locomotive and onto a crowded train platform in Fairfax, Okla., plunges into a Hobbesian churn of humanity. All around him, people are moving, shouting; some are fighting. It’s exciting and disorienting, and Ernest looks at once energized and more than a little bewildered, like a child set adrift in a crowd of strangers.

Always a quick worker, Scorsese establishes the time and place with seamless efficiency. Ernest has come to Oklahoma to work with his uncle, William Hale (a terrific Robert De Niro), a well-to-do, glad-handing cattle rancher who lives with his small family in a large, gloomy house surrounded by prairie. Known as “the King of the Osage Hills,” Hale welcomes Ernest into the fold with amused prurience: He asks if Ernest brought anything back from the war, a.k.a. the clap (no), and if he likes women (yes). Hale also delivers a brief lesson on the Osage, who in recent decades have become enormously wealthy from their oil strikes. They are, Hale says, “the finest, the wealthiest and most beautiful people on God’s earth.”

Ernest tethers you to the story and its early buzz and confusion, and you discover this new world and its people largely through him. He soon sets himself up as a chauffeur-for-hire in Fairfax, a boomtown that’s still shaking off the dust of the 19th century. There, Scorsese makes an entire social order come alive — he has an ethnographer’s eye — as roadsters race past horses and buggies on the main dirt strip, and a white salesman on bended knee implores a Native family to buy another luxury automobile. It’s amid this tumult that Ernest meets Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone, wonderful), an Osage woman with watchful eyes and a colorful blanket that she drapes over her shoulders like a royal mantle. They flirt, and soon wed.

Ernest and Mollie’s courtship develops with graceful naturalism — the two actors make immediate sense together — and their relationship grounds the story emotionally. Now 48, DiCaprio is about twice as old as the real Ernest was at the time, and age has made his face more yielding and eloquent. Ernest looks like he’s been beaten up by life (the war presumably took a toll, too), and when you first see him, a large frown is tugging his face downward, giving him a sour, dyspeptic look that only really lifts when his and Mollie’s romance takes flight. Sometime later, you realize that his uncle has the exact same frown, although Hale, who presents himself as a welcoming man of the people, is careful about who sees his displeasure.

The movie is based on David Grann’s 2017 book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I.,” a nonfiction account of how, in the early 20th century, greedy whites preyed on the newly oil-rich tribe. The book is informative, stark and relentlessly grim; the depravity of some of the crimes can be shocking. In adapting it, Scorsese and Roth have more or less jettisoned the second half of Grann’s subtitle: There’s little in the movie about the Federal Bureau of Investigation, its foundational years or its newly appointed young director, J. Edgar Hoover. (The story may horrify you, but it’s hard not to laugh when DiCaprio meets his first fed — portrayed by the reliably good Jesse Plemons — given that DiCaprio played Hoover in “J. Edgar.”)

Scorsese and Roth have also thinned the larger history that Grann sketches in, leaving just enough of the Osage’s catastrophic relations with the United States to connect the present to the past, and to give some backdrop to the guardianship system the government instituted to control both tribal members and the wealth from their mineral rights. (Full-blooded American Indians, Grann writes, were usually declared “incompetent” and appointed white guardians.) That history emerges elliptically throughout the movie in different narrative forms, including in Hale’s descriptions of the Osage, via an illustrated book, during a tribal meeting and on a radio program — each a reminder that history belongs to those who tell it.

For his telling, Scorsese has drawn on assorted genres — the movie is at once a romance, a western, a domestic drama, a whodunit and, finally, a police procedural — that effortlessly mix, ebb and flow. It’s an energetic and unexpected amalgam, but partly because Scorsese uses genre to his ends rather than conforming to its conventions, the overall effect can be destabilizing: He’s not boxed in by obvious narrative cues, and neither are you. That means that you’re never sure where the story is headed or why, which is enjoyable and adds to the overall mystery. Yet, as the murders continue to mount, and the story grows ever more outrageous and horrifying, this destabilization can also feel ominous, even dangerous.

Part of the pleasure and, for lack of a better word, magic of Scorsese’s work is how both the entirety of his filmmaking and his subjects are of an expressive piece when he’s in his groove. Scorsese once said of a John Cassavetes film, “the emotion was in the emulsion”: Like recognizes like. That’s what Scorsese imitators badly miss when they try to crib from him. When Henry Hill and his girlfriend stroll into the Copacabana during the famous long take in “Goodfellas” — a blissed-out interlude in which the characters, camera and music flow together — Scorsese isn’t showboating; he is, rather, using the full force of his technique to capture a specific moment in time in all its delirium and voluptuousness.

After Ernest and Mollie marry, he moves into her house, where she lives with her ailing mother, Lizzie Q (Tantoo Cardinal), and her sister Anna (a vibrant Cara Jade Myers), a sybarite with a pistol in her handbag. The story’s romance is warmly inviting, and DiCaprio and Gladstone work beautifully together, their different performance styles — Ernest is physically demonstrative while Mollie is reserved — creating a contrapuntal whole. You believe in these characters but also, crucially, you believe them as a couple and in the tenderness of their love. You watch them settle into each other’s bodies in bed and, at other times, lean into each other so that their foreheads touch, as if to silently share their thoughts.

Here, there’s emotion in every camera move, darting look, mirroring frown, silence, gesture as well as in the crowds that by turns embrace and threaten; it’s also in the pointed repeat of a possessive adjective. When Ernest is first being taken to Hale’s house, he asks the Osage driver, Henry Roan (William Belleau), whose land this is. Henry’s answer (“my land”) echoes what Mollie says when Ernest asks her what color her skin is (“my color”), each an assertion of sovereignty that becomes more meaningful as one after another Osage is murdered. It’s not for nothing that much later when Hale dresses down Ernest, Scorsese shoots them on a black-and-white checkered floor, underscoring their respective roles as king and pawn.

After I saw “Killers of the Flower Moon” a second time, I kept flashing on “Goodfellas” and “Kundun” because the intimacy and horror of this new movie’s violence reminded me of those earlier films. The violence here has a specific history but also a different texture and depth: It seeps into this movie like the crude oil that both liberates and condemns the Osage. You see the oil bubbling up in the prairie early on, like some misplaced witchy cauldron. As the oil begins to gurgle and then to gush, it splatters a half-dozen Osage men who’ve started to dance ecstatically at the discovery, their bodies slicked with petroleum — a harbinger of the blood that, as Scorsese reminds you in this heartbreaking masterpiece, has long engulfed us all.

Killers of the Flower Moon Rated R for gun and bomb violence, and an open-air postmortem. Running time: 3 hours 26 minutes. In theaters.

Manohla Dargis is the chief film critic of The Times, which she joined in 2004. She has an M.A. in cinema studies from New York University, and her work has been anthologized in several books. More about Manohla Dargis

  • Main content

'Killers of the Flower Moon' got rave reviews from most critics, except one who said watching the movie was 'akin to being locked in a room with a pair of soulless sadists'

  • Martin Scorsese's " Killers of the Flower Moon " is now playing in theaters. 
  • The film is based on a book and stars Leonardo DiCaprio , Lily Gladstone , and Robert De Niro. 
  • The movie has a 92% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, with many praising Gladstone's performance.

Martin Scorsese continues exploring criminals and power struggles in a way that's thought-provoking.

killing of the flower moon movie review

"For his telling, Scorsese has drawn on assorted genres — the movie is at once a romance, a western, a domestic drama, a whodunit and, finally, a police procedural — that effortlessly mix, ebb and flow." — Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

"Once the murders arrive, the film becomes a blistering Scorsese gangster movie enmeshed with a Western, with back-alley murders, shady under-the-table dealings and Thelma Schoonmaker's zippy editing across various moving parts that gives the multi-pronged story its shape and speed." — Tomris Laffly, TheWrap

"The shift into historical Americana breathes a soulfulness into the material that feels distinct from most of the director's output." — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

"Scorsese isn't just ushering us into the backrooms of the criminal world, he is exposing how the insidiousness of white supremacy in America makes all those who do nothing to actively fight it complicit in its evils." — Kristy Puchko, Mashable

"A towering achievement of immense empathy and startling historical truths, 'Killers of the Flower Moon' shows a master at work on a level few can achieve. It's a repudiation of the glamorized gangster movie Scorsese has become so associated with, a deconstruction of the romanticized Western genre, and a condemnation of you, the audience, the complacent viewer who gobbles up the very things we so frequently criticize." — Hoai-Tran Bui, Inverse

Lily Gladstone's performance as Mollie Burkhart is Oscar-worthy.

killing of the flower moon movie review

"Gladstone, in the rare Scorsese film that gives center stage to a female character, is the emotional core here, and it's her face that stays etched in our memory." — Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press

"Gladstone, hitherto best known for her superb breakout performance in Kelly Reichardt's drama 'Certain Women,' is magnificent here. Mollie is a point of stillness in a frame bursting with swagger and noise. Her serene composure draws the eye; her quiet strength holds it."  — Wendy Ide, The Guardian

"In so many ways, though, this is Lily Gladstone's movie. She plays Mollie with a mix of standoffishness and exhausted hope." — Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

"A strikingly direct woman surrounded by deceitful men, Gladstone's Mollie conveys as much with her expressive eyes or the subtle shifts of her mouth as she does with words." — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

"Gladstone's captivating performance makes you feel her turmoil, as well as her unrelenting grief as her family members keep dying." — Justin Chang, NPR

"The film, standing high among the year's very best, is unthinkable without her soulful presence." — Peter Travers, ABC News

The film's runtime of three hours and 26 minutes is polarizing, with some saying it leads to a loss of momentum and others arguing that it's justified.

killing of the flower moon movie review

"Taking a cue from the movie's soon-to-be-infamous spanking scene between Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, someone ought to paddle whoever let Martin Scorsese take three and a half hours to retell 'Killers of the Flower Moon.'" — Peter Debruge, Variety

"In its considerable length, 'Killers of the Flower Moon' does some meandering. Plot points arrive without preamble and then float away only to be revisited much later. Characters drift in and out of the picture." — Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

"At 3½ hours, the movie tests the audience's tolerance for episodic rehearsals of bad deeds done; by the time we get to the inevitable courtroom drama (featuring a distractingly cast Brendan Fraser), the proceedings feel rote and anticlimactic." — Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

"Films that spend time on such depth and detail for important yet overlooked stories like this should be celebrated, rather than criticized or approached with trepidation. " — Miles Surrey, The Ringer

One of the film's strengths is the decision to diverge from the book's focus on the creation of the FBI and instead lay out the villains and their motives from the onset.

killing of the flower moon movie review

"Whereas Grann used his narrative to tell not just the story of the Osage people but the emergence of the modern day FBI, which ends up bringing the perpetrators to justice, the filmmakers allow us to watch the acts unfold knowing exactly who is behind them." — Esther Zuckerman, The Daily Beast

"The obvious way to tell this story — the one Grann took for his book — would be as a criminal investigation. But the movie makes a stronger impression asking audiences to identify with the killers, while showing how this conspiracy impacted the Osage Nation." — Peter Debruge, Variety

"Without taking the limited series route, Scorsese and Roth make necessary choices in focusing on the steady buildup of treachery and dissemination of fear, planting a sense of horrified indignation that keeps you riveted throughout." — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

"Killers of the Flower Moon" sticks the landing with a moving cameo from Scorsese at the film's conclusion.

killing of the flower moon movie review

"In a  jarring but brilliant epilogue , Scorsese brings himself into the narrative, delivering a brief but deeply moving speech." — Kristy Puchko, Mashable

"By the time Scorsese himself comes onscreen to deliver the picture's final lines — in an incredibly moving cameo, placing himself alongside the showmen and sensationalists who've told the story of the Osage murders over the decades — we may actually find ourselves surprised that the movie is over. It feels like an open wound right up to the end." — Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

"The fact that this epilogue comes after, oh, 200 minutes of expertly sustained tension is just another sign that in the latter years of his career, Scorsese is upping the ante — in terms of scale, yes, but also ambition." — Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press

"It's a spiritual, personal and deeply human parting note that feels as specific and enormous as the rest of the film, bleeding for the departed in reverberating silence." — Tomris Laffly, TheWrap

"Killers of the Flower Moon" received an overwhelming amount of positive reviews, with the exception of one critic at The Wall Street Journal who dubbed the movie a "soulless epic."

killing of the flower moon movie review

The headline for the Wall Street Journal critic Kyle Smith's review referred to the movie as a "soulless epic."

"We're in 1920s Osage territory in Oklahoma, where after an oil discovery the Native Americans are being systematically swindled, robbed and murdered by white people," Smith wrote. "Director Martin Scorsese repeats so many variations on this depressing mistreatment that experiencing the film is akin to being locked in a room with a pair of soulless sadists."

Smith felt that DiCaprio and De Niro were miscast, while Jesse Plemons was underused as a detective investigating the Osage murders.

The critic also described the movie as "a drudge and a dirge" given its lengthy runtime. 

killing of the flower moon movie review

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Killers of the Flower Moon

Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

When oil is discovered in 1920s Oklahoma under Osage Nation land, the Osage people are murdered one by one - until the FBI steps in to unravel the mystery. When oil is discovered in 1920s Oklahoma under Osage Nation land, the Osage people are murdered one by one - until the FBI steps in to unravel the mystery. When oil is discovered in 1920s Oklahoma under Osage Nation land, the Osage people are murdered one by one - until the FBI steps in to unravel the mystery.

  • Martin Scorsese
  • David Grann
  • Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Robert De Niro
  • Lily Gladstone
  • 944 User reviews
  • 338 Critic reviews
  • 89 Metascore
  • 44 wins & 200 nominations

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  • Ernest Burkhart

Robert De Niro

  • William Hale

Lily Gladstone

  • Mollie Burkhart

Jesse Plemons

  • Prosecutor Peter Leaward

Brendan Fraser

  • W.S. Hamilton

Cara Jade Myers

  • (as JaNae Collins)

Jillian Dion

  • Kelsie Morrison

Scott Shepherd

  • Byron Burkhart
  • Paul Red Eagle
  • Non-Hon-Zhin-Ga …

Yancey Red Corn

  • Chief Bonnicastle

Tatanka Means

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  • Trivia The investigation into Osage County was the first investigation presented to the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It was led by J. Edgar Hoover.
  • Goofs At the end of the spanking scene, De Niro hits DiCaprio so hard that the paddle breaks, with a splintered crack in the middle of the paddle. An indication that this was accidental comes with De Niro attempting to hide it behind his leg, while the next scene has an unbroken paddle placed on the floor against the podium.

Ernest Burkhart : Can you find the wolves in this picture?

  • Alternate versions The Australian theatrical version was cut for an M rating, given on 9 Oct 2023. The uncut version was previously rated MA15+ on 5 Sep 2023. Based on the two classifications, 'strong injury detail' was removed or replaced to obtain the new, more accessible rating.
  • Connections Featured in Amanda the Jedi Show: Never Trust the Standing Ovations | CANNES 2023 Indiana Jones, Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)
  • Soundtracks Bull Doze Blues Written by Henry Thomas Performed by Henry Thomas Courtesy of Document Records

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  • Oct 19, 2023

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  • How long is Killers of the Flower Moon? Powered by Alexa
  • October 20, 2023 (United States)
  • United States
  • Bartlesville, Oklahoma, USA
  • Apple Studios
  • Imperative Entertainment
  • Sikelia Productions
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  • $200,000,000 (estimated)
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  • Oct 22, 2023
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  • Runtime 3 hours 26 minutes
  • Black and White
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Killers of the Flower Moon Review

Martin scorsese’s native american epic is unapologetically vicious by design..

Killers of the Flower Moon Review - IGN Image

Killers of the Flower Moon is now playing in theaters, and will stream on Apple TV+ at a later date. This review originally ran following the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

Killers of the Flower Moon is as brutal as they come. It spans dozens of murders over several years, across a herculean 206 minutes that allow you to dwell on its brutality in a way few movies ever do. Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Eric Roth take the many details of David Grann’s journalistic non-fiction novel and adapt them into textures and background tapestries, while keeping the focus squarely on a toxic love story set against a chilling vision of Native American genocide.

Scorsese’s two most prominent on-screen collaborators, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, are finally united in one of his films, lending it infinite star power. However, the real revelation here is Lily Gladstone as the wealthy Osage tribeswoman Mollie Burkhart, who falls in love with DiCaprio’s chauffeur character, but soon begins to see her family and culture slowly die in front of her. Gladstone turns in a stunning performance that starts out as sweet and powerfully self-assured – but that aura soon slips away as if the life were gradually being drained from her body, and from her eyes.

Killers of the Flower Moon is about a string of murders in Oklahoma in the 1920s whose victims were all part of (or connected to) an oil-rich Native community – one whose wealth was placed under white “guardians” by the U.S. government – but the murders were barely investigated at first. Where it most differs, however, is that in the book Grann held all the cards close to his chest, revealing the bumbling (but downright inhumane) culprits and their methods only gradually, once the newly formed Bureau of Investigation (the precursor to the FBI) began putting the pieces together. Scorsese and Roth, on the other hand, depict these specifics pretty much from the outset, making the sprawling conspiracy feel shockingly out in the open. According to Grann’s book, it was said that many white men of the time didn’t consider killing a Native American to be murder, but rather animal cruelty. All that’s left for Bureau detective Tom White (Jesse Plemmons) to do, when he shows up late into the story, is to elicit confessions for what everyone already seems to know.

It’s a murder mystery told from the murderers’ point of view, packing a nauseating emotional punch thanks to how brazen its conspirators can be about killing a people they deem beneath them – for financial gain, no less – given how much power and political influence is on their side. In this way, Killers of the Flower Moon functions as an extension of (and a focused metaphor for) one of America’s original sins: the mistreatment of its Native populations across the centuries, and the casual carnage wrought upon them with little consequence.

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However, its Osage characters aren’t rendered as mere sympathetic victims. They are, in terms of screen time, secondary only to DiCaprio and DeNiro’s quietly vicious characters, who hide behind their friendship to the Osage. DiCaprio plays Ernest, the enthusiastic lackey whose charm becomes buried beneath complicity, while DeNiro plays his seemingly benevolent uncle, the scheming cattleman and business magnate William Hale, who audaciously refers to himself as “The King of the Osage Hills.” But the perspective of the Osage tribe is central to Killers of the Flower Moon’s success. The script was heavily re-written with Osage input – and it shows – so in addition to the brutality enacted upon them, this story is just as much about their culture, from their rituals and beliefs surrounding birth, death and marriage, to the ways they move through the world. There are enough fully-formed Osage characters that everything from reverence for tradition and tribal meetings to gossip and flirtatiousness is on full display. It gives us a vivid and deeply human sense of what (and who) was lost.

Although it’s set in the 1920s, Killers of the Flower Moon functions as a self-reflexive Western, from Rodrigo Prieto’s gorgeous landscape cinematography, to Robbie Robertson constant musical reminders of the genre at every turn. The conspiracy’s many perpetrators are framed within the conventions of the classic Western, as well as the classic mob movie; they’re black-hatted outlaws and untouchable gangsters scheming in code (but again: shamelessly in the open). Where until very recently Hollywood had so frequently and pervasively seen Native “savages” victimize innocent white characters, the tables are turned here; Scorsese expertly folds real and cinematic histories together, exposing one while subverting the other.

What especially keeps Killers of the Flower Moon interesting despite its epic length is its breakneck momentum, whether through Scorsese’s fluid camera movements, editor Thelma Schoonmaker’s propulsive cuts, or an expert combination of the two. The subject matter may be somber, but this is a Scorsese movie through and through, with a litany of minor parts played by instantly recognizable actors (like Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow) and scenes of snappy dialogue that make each bit of planning and plotting feel like something out of Goodfellas. It’s disarmingly fun, but it also knows exactly how and when to yank you out of comfortable and familiar modes of movie-watching, with stark reminders of the viciousness and bloodthirst lurking just outside the frame (and often inside it, too).

The lengthy runtime has the advantage of making something heavy settle in the pit of your stomach for extended periods, not unlike the last hour of Scorsese’s The Irishman, in which learning the details of a secret murder plot becomes stressful and harrowing. Only this time, the plan is visible for almost everyone to see – every white character, at least, and the camera is complicit, too – making it even more dread-inducing. It becomes all the more depressing given the ease with which violence is perpetrated against the Osage, even within the confines of supposedly just systems, which seem unlikely to convict white men of these crimes to begin with.

Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon Images

killing of the flower moon movie review

And yet, perhaps its most riveting scenes are those focused on the genuine love story between Mollie and Ernest, in all its euphoria and all its difficulties, filtering the broken trust between America’s Natives and its colonizers down to a domestic dynamic. It’s a multi-faceted relationship with a glowing, realistic allure. But given the troubling circumstances (and Ernest’s connections to unsavory actors), nearly everything about this central romance is called into question. The brutality of violent bloodshed can be just as painful as the brutality of doubt, as both Mollie and the audience are led to wonder how genuine a man like Ernest is capable of being. Can he be trusted, let alone redeemed, when his actions so directly fall under what political thinker Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil,” referring to the thoughtlessly routine way Nazi officers obediently and uncritically carried out their duties?

Since the perpetrators are known to the audience, Killers of the Flower Moon instead allows the questions of Ernest’s morality and complicity to become its central mystery through Mollie’s eyes, ultimately coming to a firm conclusion, in the form of an emotionally nauseating payoff. This focus on the weight of Ernest’s actions, and the question of his own awareness of them, guides the movie’s rhythms and keeps us tethered to its emotional uncertainties, even when it feels bold and self-assured in its cinematic pleasures. But while this allows for a conclusive plot, it doesn’t afford us a true sense of emotional closure, a choice Scorsese makes and then emphasizes in a mischievously meta-textual way, all but owning up to the fact that the violence seen on screen here still has long-lasting implications today.

Like the lives of its Native characters, even the most energetic scenes in Killers of the Flower Moon come with numerous caveats, as death lurks not around every corner, but on the Main Street of every American town. It wears a friendly and familiar smile.

Like the novel on which it’s based, Killers of the Flower Moon offers a detailed portrait of the Osage tribe, the infamous murders committed against them in the 1920s, and the life of Mollie Burkhart, who saw most of her family slain. As Mollie, Native actress Lily Gladstone brims with innocent love and ferocious anger, delivering a performance that’s sure to launch her into Hollywood’s stratosphere – especially as she holds her own against compellingly corrosive work from De Niro and DiCaprio, as men whose warm benevolence is always underscored by an icy chill. It’s one of Scorsese’s most brutal films, yet one of his most thoughtful and self-reflexive, as he crafts a subversive murder “mystery” that leaves no lingering questions save for one. It’s a question that defines the tide of American history: Just how far are people willing to go for greed?

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Scorsese centers men and their violence once again in 'killers of the flower moon'.

Justin Chang

killing of the flower moon movie review

Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon. Apple TV+ hide caption

Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon.

Martin Scorsese 's Killers of the Flower Moon mostly unfolds in the 1920s, when some of the richest people in America were members of the Osage Nation in northeast Oklahoma. Having discovered oil beneath their land years earlier, the Osage live in beautiful homes, own expensive cars and employ white servants.

As in his earlier period dramas, like The Age of Innocence and Gangs of New York , Scorsese brings a highly specific bygone era to vivid life. But this story of enviable wealth is also one of exploitation. The Osage don't control their money; the U.S. government has assigned them white guardians to oversee their finances. Many Osage women are married to white men, who are clearly eyeing their wives' fortunes.

'Of course we should be here': 'Flower Moon' receives a 9-minute ovation at Cannes

'Of course we should be here': 'Flower Moon' receives a 9-minute ovation at Cannes

The movie, adapted from David Grann 's 2017 book , is structured around one of these marriages. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart, a handsome, slightly feckless World War I veteran. He's come to Oklahoma to live with his uncle, William K. Hale, a wealthy cattle rancher and beloved community pillar played by Robert De Niro. Soon Ernest finds work as a driver for Mollie Kyle, a quietly steely Osage woman played by Lily Gladstone, whom you may recognize from the series Reservation Dogs and movies like Certain Women .

Ernest is a flirt, and while she initially resists his advances, Mollie eventually falls for him. They marry in a visually stunning wedding sequence that shows the panoramic sweep of Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography and the exquisite detail of Jacqueline West's costumes. But even as they settle down and start a family, Mollie begins to lose hers. Her mother and sister succumb to a mysterious illness. Another sister is found shot to death in the woods. Many more Osage victims turn up, suggesting an intricate criminal conspiracy at work.

Largely Forgotten Osage Murders Reveal A Conspiracy Against Wealthy Native Americans

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Grann's book unraveled that conspiracy gradually, through the eyes of Tom White, a dogged investigator for the FBI; he's played here, very well, by Jesse Plemons. But the movie diminishes his role considerably and reveals what's going on pretty much from the start: White men are systematically murdering the Osage for their headrights, their legal claims to this oil-rich land.

What's so unsettling is not just the ruthlessness but the patience of this scheme; whoever's plotting these chess moves, arranging marriages, devising murders and controlling who inherits headrights, is playing a very long and elaborate game. Killers of the Flower Moon is very long itself at three-and-a-half hours, but it's also continually gripping; Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker are masters of the slow burn.

Blood, oil, and the Osage Nation: The battle over headrights

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Blood, oil, and the osage nation: the battle over headrights.

Whatever's going on, it's clear that De Niro's Hale is at the center of the mystery — not just because of the cunning twinkle in his eye, but also because he bears the darkly iconic weight of the actor's past roles in GoodFellas , Cape Fear, The Irishman and other Scorsese dramas.

DiCaprio, also a Scorsese veteran, is equally good as Hale's gullible lackey, who gets drawn into this cold-blooded plot. When Mollie falls very ill, a chill runs through the entire picture: Could Ernest really be killing the mother of his children, a woman he genuinely seems to love?

Mollie herself doesn't know what to think. Gladstone's captivating performance makes you feel her turmoil, as well as her unrelenting grief as her family members keep dying.

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Scorsese wants to honor those victims, and to show how they fit into the long, brutal history of Native American displacement and death. After spending decades exploring America's mean streets, he's addressing the country's original sin. Much of the pre-release buzz has focused on the care that he took, working with Osage consultants to present an authentic depiction of Indigenous life. Even so, some have asked whether a white man should be telling this story — a question that Scorsese seems to acknowledge in one powerfully self-implicating scene.

To my eyes, the movie does have a framing problem, but it's mainly because of its jumble of perspectives. Scorsese gives just enough attention to Mollie and the other Osage characters that I wish he'd centered them even more. But the movie's true interest seems to lie elsewhere. Killers of the Flower Moon may be a fresh departure for Scorsese, but it also finds him on perhaps too-familiar terrain, transfixed as ever by the violence that men do and the trauma that they leave behind.

Here are the movies we can't wait to watch this fall

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‘Killers of the Flower Moon’: An admirable yet vexingly uneven film

Less whodunit than who-didn’t-do-it, martin scorsese’s latest drama does away with the suspense of david grann’s nonfiction book about a series of murders of osage indians.

killing of the flower moon movie review

The four most dreaded words for a film critic are, “What did you think?” And never have they been more problematic than when it comes to “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Martin Scorsese’s eagerly anticipated adaptation of David Grann’s 2017 book of the same name.

In that gripping, magisterial account, Grann chronicled in sickening detail how a group of Osage Indians in 1920s Oklahoma were exploited, terrorized and murdered in a series of mysterious crimes. It wasn’t a complete surprise that the culprits turned out to be the White neighbors — politicians, businessmen, friends and even loved ones — who pretended to be the Osages’ allies and protectors. Although the literal crime would eventually be solved by agents of a nascent organization called the Bureau of Investigation (later known as the FBI), what propelled “Killers of the Flower Moon” was Grann’s carefully calibrated way of widening the scope of the malfeasance, as what seemed initially to be a lively, pluralistic boom town morphed into a microcosm of American capitalistic expansion at its most ruthless, rapacious and racist.

Martin Scorsese isn’t glorifying violence. He’s reckoning with it.

Scorsese, working from a script he co-wrote with Eric Roth, does away with the suspense Grann generated so expertly in his book: After a prologue depicting a Native American funeral ritual, and a newsreel-like introduction explaining the vast oil reserves that made the Osage the wealthiest people in the country, he gets the narrative underway on a train carrying recent World War I veteran Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) to Fairfax, Okla., where he intends to seek his fortune under the guidance of his wildly successful uncle, Bill “King” Hale (Robert De Niro). Hale effectively sets up the scheme within the first 20 minutes of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” explaining to the none-too-bright Ernest that the Osage are “the finest, most beautiful people on God’s Earth” before adding that there’s money to be made in laying claim to the Indians’ rights to the oil under their tribal lands — by way of marriage, murder or any means necessary.

Scorsese’s choice to lay out the plan so bluntly deprives “Killers of the Flower Moon” of the crucial element of suspense: By the time the Bureau of Investigation’s Tom White (Jesse Plemons) shows up two hours in, the audience knows full well whodunit (as Scorsese has repeated several times in interviews, this story is a who- didn’t -do-it). What we’re left with is a dreadful, sometimes surpassingly dull taxonomy of wickedness, as the greedy, lunkheaded Ernest succumbs to Hale’s venal spell, while also falling in love with and marrying an Osage woman named Mollie.

Played with serene knowingness by Lily Gladstone, Mollie is the moral conscience of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” But she’s mostly a victim, meaning that she’s often relegated to a role of passive, if bitterly affecting, suffering. The doers here are the bad guys, much like in Scorsese pictures past, but now their impunity isn’t a matter of escapist wish fulfillment and scoundrel-y derring-do. Instead, it possesses what it’s probably had all along: the petty, plodding rhythms that befit evil at its most banal. With his mouth drawn down into a marionette frown, DiCaprio delivers one of his mumble-mouthed, anti-charismatic portrayals (more “ The Revenant ” than “ The Wolf of Wall Street ”), while De Niro embodies Hale like a down-home version of one of his New York goombahs. Scorsese lards the supporting cast with musicians like Jason Isbell and Jack White; by far the most impressive is Sturgill Simpson, who provides a welcome gleam of sly humor as one of Hale’s moonshining henchmen. (The musical score, by the late Robbie Robertson, consists mostly of a brooding bass line ostinato.)

There’s no doubt that “Killers of the Flower Moon” reflects a shift in energy that is defensible — even necessary — from an ethical point of view. Narratively, that pivot results in a film that, it must be said, feels leached of the energy and vigor viewers associate with Scorsese at his most exhilarating. In recent years, with films like “Silence” and “The Irishman,” fans have been forced to adjust their metabolisms and tamp their hunger for vicarious thrills. Like those films, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is a slower, more methodical, sometimes more boring affair. To be sure, the broad contours align with Scorsese’s most famous crime pictures: There are moments when Hale’s plans resemble the heists and hits of “Goodfellas,” and there are even a couple of shot-for-shot echoes. But here, the villainy is muted, as dirtified and desaturated as cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto’s color palette. As the brazenness and bodies pile up, the scams are no longer flights of hubristic fancy; they’re chores to be endured. (No Copacabana tracking shots or “Layla” piano solos here.)

If “Killers of the Flower Moon” isn’t as purely pleasurable to watch as Scorsese’s most canonical movies, that doesn’t mean it lacks beauty, or even audacity. Some of the film’s most transcendent moments capture the swirl of life in Osage County, from its weddings to its family meals; many feature Mollie’s mother, Lizzie (Tantoo Cardinal), whose experiences on the brink of death are represented in stunning flights of magical realism. The chaotic town of Fairfax, where people ride on horses and racecars down the main street, is a fascinating jumble of Old West and modernity, its veneer of optimism and progress queasily coexisting with the Ku Klux Klan and White-led race riots in Tulsa, just 65 miles away. As in the book, the subtext of “Killers of the Flower Moon” is what might have been, as a brief dream of tolerance and coexistence curdles into an engulfing exercise in cultural and financial theft.

As a work of history and heightened political consciousness, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is beyond reproach; it dramatizes a grievous truth — about the depravity, destruction and self-deception that undergird the American idea — that has been buried for too long, especially in movies. But that nobility of purposes raises uncomfortable questions about what makes for riveting cinema — or at least a riveting Martin Scorsese movie. At 3½ hours, the movie tests the audience’s tolerance for episodic rehearsals of bad deeds done; by the time we get to the inevitable courtroom drama (featuring a distractingly cast Brendan Fraser), the proceedings feel rote and anticlimactic.

In interviews, Scorsese has explained how he and Roth rewrote Roth’s original script for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” to give the Osage more space but also to tell their story from the inside. Despite those efforts, his point of view never gets deeper than that of an alert, caring observer. That’s despite an obvious emotional attachment to Mollie, a connection that becomes apparent in the film’s epilogue, in which the director creates a set piece that feels both emotionally distancing and movingly on point. It’s startling, self-conscious and strangely of a piece with the admirable, vexingly uneven movie that has come before: In other words, it’s totally Scorsese.

R. At area theaters, Contains violence, some grisly images and coarse language. 206 minutes.

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Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio

Killers of the Flower Moon review – Scorsese’s magnificent period epic is an instant American classic

Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro star in a sinuous, pitch-black tragedy about how the west was really won

F ate has smiled on the Osage Indian nation, out in Oklahoma. The reservation sits on an oasis of black gold; the First Nation people have become oil multimillionaires. They bump along the dirt roads in chauffeur-driven Buicks, play golf on the grassland and take private planes for a spin.

But this newfound fortune brings danger; they want to watch out they’re not killed. The history of the west, after all, is one of exploitation and slaughter.

The 1920s Osage murders provided the spark for David Grann’s 2017 nonfiction bestseller, which lifted the lid on hundreds of unexplained deaths. Now Grann’s book forms the basis for Martin Scorsese’s magnificent period epic, a saga of industrialised gangsterism in America’s wide open spaces, forcefully played by Leonardo DiCaprio , Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone.

This is Scorsese’s first picture at the Cannes film festival since 1985’s After Hours. It’s also the richest, strongest movie he’s made in nearly 30 years.

Back from the war, Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) needs money, a fresh start and perhaps a young wife. His uncle, William Hale (De Niro), furnishes him with all three. Hale is a cattle baron and therefore already rich.

But one fortune’s not enough – perhaps it never quite is – and so he steers Ernest towards Mollie (Lily Gladstone), who holds the “headrights” to the oil deposits on her land. If Ernest marries Mollie, then he and Hale promptly gain control of the estate. What Mollie gets from the arrangement is more open to question.

“Coyote wants money,” smiles Mollie, rumbling Ernest’s game right away. But Scorsese effectively shows that her position is tenuous and how, despite their riches, the Osage know that they need to keep their white patrons on side. Also, Mollie is diabetic and needs regular doses of insulin. Osage women, Hale explains kindly, never seem to live to a ripe old age.

De Niro’s on powerhouse form as big Uncle Bill Hale, a man who combines the folksy authority of Lyndon Johnson with the steely twinkle of Bill Cosby. It’s a performance so potent that it might have unbalanced a lesser movie.

Scorsese, though, simply makes it part of the mix, another instrument in a mighty orchestra, complemented by DiCaprio, Gladstone and Jesse Plemons as a foursquare federal investigator. Killers of the Flower Moon is monumentally long (206 minutes) and moves at an unhurried pace, but it knows where it’s going and barely a second is wasted. It’s sinuous and old-school, an instant American classic; almost Steinbeckian in its attention to detail and its banked, righteous rage.

No man, obviously, regards himself as a monster. Even those who play God claim to do it out of love. And so it is with Bill Hale, who purports to care deeply for the Osage, even as they struggle with alcoholism and depression and the theft of their tribal lands; even as the bodies appear to be piling up by the day.

“I love them, but in the turning of the earth, they’re gone,” he sighs, at the point in the film when the storm clouds start massing. Their time is over, he believes, while his is just beginning.

The realisation that the fossil fuel underfoot is made of so much rotting matter only adds to the sense that Scorsese is weaving an alternative American creation myth here.

Killers of the Flower Moon plays out as a muscular, pitch-black tragedy about how the west was really won, recasting Eden as a barren grassland where the only fruit is crude oil and the blood on the ground plants the seeds for the future.

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Dramatic and Moral Ambitions Clash in “Killers of the Flower Moon”

By Anthony Lane

Two men standing in tall grass.

For fans of James Dean, nothing beats the moment in “Giant” (1956) when an oil well erupts. Dean raises his arms and bathes in the rich rain. Clocking in at three hours and twenty-one minutes, “Giant” chimes with Martin Scorsese’s latest movie, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which, not to be outdone, is five minutes longer still. In an extraordinary sequence, near the start, we see men of the Osage Nation, stripped to the waist, dancing in slow motion, and in unfeigned joy, as a shower of oil falls upon them. It may be the one happy vision in the entire film. From here on, oil will take second place to another precious commodity that gushes with the aid of human know-how. There will be blood.

Written by Scorsese and Eric Roth, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is adapted from the nonfiction book of the same title by David Grann, a staff writer at this magazine. Grann explores the quest for oil under Osage country, in Oklahoma, in the springtime of the twentieth century, and the auctions at which leases for drilling were purchased from Osage landowners. (A single lease could cost more than a million dollars.) In 1920, one reporter, describing the newfound Osage wealth, proclaimed, “Something will have to be done about it.” What was done is soon revealed in the film, as vintage stills of the Osage, posed in their finery or in resplendent automobiles, make way for other images, composed by Scorsese with equal calm: dead bodies of the Osage, viewed from above, laid out on their beds. A voice-over gives their names and their ages, adding, “No investigation.” If they are being murdered, nobody seems to mind.

Grann ranges wider, in time and in territory, than Scorsese is able to do. The book arrives at the dire proposition that there was “a culture of killing,” with Osage victims numbering in the hundreds, many of them missing from official estimates. As often as not, they were slain for their “headrights,” shares in the mineral trust of the tribe. (Were an Osage woman to meet with an unfortunate accident, or succumb to a puzzling illness, her rights would pass to her nearest and dearest—a grieving white husband, say.) Grann homes in on a bunch of characters in and around the towns of Gray Horse and Fairfax, and Scorsese does the same. We meet an elderly Osage widow named Lizzie (Tantoo Cardinal) and her daughters, Mollie (Lily Gladstone), Minnie (Jillian Dion), Rita (Janae Collins), and Anna (Cara Jade Myers). Then, there is William Hale (Robert De Niro), a cattle owner, prosperous and genial; he cultivates warm relations with the Osage and speaks their language. No one could accuse him of modesty. “Call me King,” he declares. Hale has a nephew, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is not long back from the First World War. He served with distinction as a cook.

You may be wondering who, of all these folk, will be the lodestone. For Grann, it’s Tom White, who, in 1925, was sent by J. Edgar Hoover, of the Bureau of Investigation (the forerunner of the F.B.I.), to delve into the Osage deaths. White cuts a genuinely heroic figure, upright and just, and his sleuthing guides us surely through the skeins of evidence. He shows up in the movie, too, but not for a long while, and—although he’s well played, with a courteous tenacity, by Jesse Plemons—in no way does he bind events together onscreen as he does on the page. Instead, bewilderingly, it is Ernest Burkhart whose fortunes we are invited to follow. Huh? This dumb dolt, with bran for brains? Why should he take center stage?

Early in the film, Burkhart has a talk with his uncle, who asks whether he is fond of women. “That’s my weakness,” Burkhart replies. “You like red?” Hale inquires, and we realize that he wants to marry Burkhart off to an Osage woman, like an aunt in Jane Austen trying to hitch an unpromising nephew to a local heiress. The slight difference is that very few aunts in Regency England, as a rule, arranged to have notable persons bumped off with poisoned hooch or shot in the back of the head. Hale doesn’t merely hope for Osage lucre in the long run; he wants it now, by whatever means necessary. “If you’re going to make trouble,” he says, “make it big.” Everything to come is foretold in this conversation. Burkhart does indeed court Mollie and make her his wife, to the satisfaction of his scheming uncle and to the detriment, I would argue, of suspense. Somehow the very appearance of De Niro, in a Scorsese film, is enough to give away the plot.

The loyalty of directors to their actors is a noble trait, and often a highly productive one. Think of the troupe that rotated around Ingmar Bergman, shifting between major and minor stints; in 1957, Max von Sydow was a medieval knight, bestriding “The Seventh Seal,” and then a gas-station attendant, in “Wild Strawberries.” No less faithful, Scorsese (who used von Sydow in 2010, in “Shutter Island”) has turned repeatedly to De Niro and DiCaprio, and some of the results have been stupendous.

DiCaprio, however, is a curious specimen. The more agonized the roles into which Scorsese has plunged him, in films like “Gangs of New York” (2002) and “The Departed” (2006), the less DiCaprio has been at liberty to flourish his prime asset—namely, his boyishness. He strikes me as a perennial kid, adrift in a land of grownups, and only truly at ease when he can lark around. That’s why his best and his most believable performance was back in 2002, in “Catch Me if You Can,” directed by Steven Spielberg, whose casting eye is unrivalled, and who spied the essential lightness in DiCaprio. Scorsese, on the other hand, has strained to drag him into the dark. If their happiest collaboration is in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), it is because, for once, the actor’s puckish vagaries are not reined in. Scorsese loosens the leash.

I would love to report that DiCaprio is rejuvenated by “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Sadly not. He does get to banter with De Niro, during a car ride, but listen to the topic under discussion: the killing of an Osage man, Henry Roan (William Belleau), which was meant to resemble a suicide but went awry. We can’t help laughing along with Hale and Burkhart, as if they were two goons in a Scorsese Mob movie; meanwhile, the thought of poor Roan gets lost in the mix. Such is the dilemma that weighs upon this film. Although its moral ambition is to honor the tribulations of an Indigenous people, it keeps getting pulled back into the orbit—emotional, social, and eventually legal—of white men. Mollie is diabetic, and Burkhart gradually suspects that the insulin injections he is giving her may be doctored; yet the focus remains more on his clenched and frowning perplexity than on her wasting away.

More than once, Mollie refers to herself as “incompetent.” This is not a joke but a formal term, which the film, for some reason, never bothers to define; many Osage were considered ill-suited to handling their own funds, which had to be administered by a white guardian. Yet it is a joke, as dark as oil, because Lily Gladstone, as Mollie, is unmistakably the most compelling presence in the movie. Her gait is dignified and unrushed, her humor is vented in a high and lovely yelp, and her smile is deliciously knowing and slow—so knowing, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine what Mollie sees in Burkhart, whom she calls a coyote. It’s not as if she’s blind to his basic motive. “Coyote wants money,” she says. All of her sisters make their mark; Myers, especially, does a wonderful job as Anna, who is handsome, wanton, fiery, and fatally drawn to the bottle. But Mollie is at the core of the family, and Scorsese, to be fair, does her proud with a scene in which a crowd of onlookers, gathered near a corpse that has been found by a river, parts in silent respect to let Mollie through. The camera takes the part of the bereaved.

If you relish that kind of staging—people being shifted, smoothly or brutally, around the frame, the better to boost the narrative sway—then Scorsese, aged eighty, is still the guy you need. Check out the sequence, for example, in which a wanted man is arrested. He sits in a barber’s chair, in the foreground; when lawmen enter from the street, behind him, we notice them well before he does. Even as they draw close, he stays put, making no effort to scuffle or scarper, and that simple quiescence proves that his hour of reckoning comes as no surprise. Hell, it might just be a relief.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is rife with such passages of action and inaction, in tune with its symphonic stateliness. Themes of oppression, vengeance, and resistance are developed and recapitulated throughout, and there’s also a strange coda, in which Scorsese himself turns up. He plays an announcer on an old-school radio drama, which retells the saga of the Osage murders, complete with cheesy sound effects. Needless to say, the heroes of the show are Hoover’s boys from the Bureau. Is Scorsese claiming that, in contrast to this low-rent travesty, he has reclaimed the original terrors of the case; or is he, more humbly, confessing that his film is just one more version of a tragedy that can never be fully fathomed or explained? Next time, perhaps, an Osage voice will tell the tale anew. ♦

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killing of the flower moon movie review

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ Review: Martin Scorsese’s Osage Murders Movie Is Overlong but Never Slow

Instead of focusing his cameras on the Native victims, the 'Irishman' director lets Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro have the lion's share of the screen time in this meaty but demanding true-crime saga.

By Peter Debruge

Peter Debruge

Chief Film Critic

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Killers of the Flower Moon

SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains mild spoilers.

Taking a cue from the movie’s soon-to-be-infamous spanking scene between Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio , someone ought to paddle whoever let Martin Scorsese take three and a half hours to retell “ Killers of the Flower Moon .” You could read David Grann’s page-turner — about an audacious 1920s conspiracy to steal resources from the Osage people by murder — in less time, and you’d learn a whole lot more about how J. Edgar Hoover and the newly formed FBI used this case to establish their place in American law enforcement.

This is why someone needs to stand up and tell Marty to rein it in. They should’ve done it before he started shooting, since the pace is built in, and Scorsese’s projects don’t compress well after the fact. In its present form, “Killers” is still a compelling true story, one that Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth shifted from being a standard white-savior detective yarn to a more morally thorny look at how the white culprits plotted and carried out the murders. Stylistically, this feels like a young man’s movie. It’s engrossing from the get-go, the palpable tension methodically echoed by Robbie Robertson’s steady-heartbeat score. But it keeps going and going until everyone we care about is dead, dying or behind bars, with nearly an hour still in store.

Scorsese opens on prosperous times for the Osage people, who’d become the wealthiest Americans per capita, thanks to the countless oil derricks that cover their bland land. That made them obvious targets to be exploited. Early on, the director draws a direct line between the Osage Murders and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, referenced via old-timey newsreels — both cases in which white supremacists couldn’t stand to see others prosper, counting on a biased legal system to cover their crimes.

But this isn’t the story of one murder. Taking a page from “Goodfellas,” Scorsese runs through half a dozen suspicious deaths right upfront, dismissed without investigation, including a “suicide” where we see someone shoot an Osage woman through the chest, then restage the scene by placing the gun near her hand. That’s the climate into which DiCaprio’s character, an opportunistic World War I veteran named Ernest Burkhart, moves to Fairfax, Okla., where he soon finds himself participating in the killings. Ernest’s first stop off the train is his uncle William “King” Hale’s place, where the well-connected cattleman (played by De Niro) welcomes him to town, glad to have the perfect patsy.

Ernest doesn’t realize it, but the scheme is already underway. For it to work, King needs his nephew to marry Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman who’s too sharp not to recognize a gold digger, but too trusting to imagine just how sinister her suitor’s intentions may be. Almost right away, her relatives start dying of suspicious causes. One sister succumbs to a strange “wasting disease,” another is discovered with a bullet wound to the back of her head, and the third dies in an explosion so big, it blows out all the windows for a mile in every direction.

No question, these crimes are unconscionable. To make audiences feel the revulsion, Scorsese shoves the victims’ bloody skulls in our faces — except he knows full well that audiences crave “whackings.” In a way that seems almost strategic, given the running time, the murders perversely become a thing to look forward to, carrying viewers through long dry stretches of drama till the next horrific execution. With each death, the family fortunes flow toward Mollie, whose headrights can legally pass to her husband, if she so bequeaths it — all as King had foreseen.

The country’s ambivalence toward Natives makes their job easy, and without getting bogged down in context, “Killers” illustrates some of the ways the system was designed to defraud them — such as certifying a number of Osage “incompetent,” such that white men would be assigned to administer their trust funds. Others charge the Natives outrageous prices, or take insurance policies on their debts, the way King does Henry Roan (William Belleau) before bumping him off.

Politically well connected, King had the authorities in his pocket and the nerve to conduct a fair amount of his scheming out in the open. Instead of telegraphing his duplicity, De Niro lays on the charm, serving as a kind of godfather figure to everyone in Fairfax — though King’s actions suggest that every line might be uttered with fingers crossed behind his back.

The obvious way to tell this story — the one Grann took for his book — would be as a criminal investigation. But the movie makes a stronger impression asking audiences to identify with the killers, while showing how this conspiracy impacted the Osage Nation. On a couple occasions, Scorsese takes us inside tribal council meetings, where Native spokesmen complain that no one cares about the murders in their midst. If they want the deaths investigated, they’ll have to pay for it themselves. When they finally send a representative to Washington, D.C., to address the Indian Affairs office, that man winds up bludgeoned to death in a ditch. And when Hoover dispatches a former Texas Ranger, Tom White (Jesse Plemons), Ernest and King hardly give him the time of day.

White eventually cracked the case, much to the FBI’s glory, though that part of the film nearly grinds to a halt as Mollie teeters on death’s precipice — as indicated by visions of the owl her mother identified as an omen before her own passing. In a chilling scene, this once-proud, stoic-even-in-outrage woman looks her husband in his paunchy, pathetic face and demands to know what he gave her. Scorsese constructs the movie’s drawn-out climax around Ernest’s choice: Will he protect King to the bitter end, or will he testify against his uncle and maybe save Mollie in the process? The decision comes down to the fate of his children, who somehow got short shrift in the preceding three hours.

So how does Scorsese justify the running time? Shooting the film on location in Oklahoma, he and DP Rodrigo Prieto immerse audiences in the oil-rich community, featuring street races and downtown parades, plus a stunning scene in which King’s fields burn, like the hellish inferno in “Days of Heaven.” Picnics and powwows provide more than just production value, situating this incredible story within a singular place and time.

Reviewed at Christine 21, Paris, May 12, 2023. In Cannes Film Festival (Out of Competition). Running time: 206 MIN.

  • Production: An Apple TV+, Paramount release and presentation of an Apple Studios, Imperative Entertainment, Sikelia Prods., Appian Way Prods. production. Producers: Martin Scorsese, Dan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas, Daniel Lupi. Executive producers: Leonardo DiCaprio, Rick Yorn, Adam Somner, Marianne Bower, Lisa Frechette, John Atwood, Shea Kammer, Niels Juul.
  • Crew: Director: Martin Scorsese. Screenplay: Eric Roth, Martin Scorsese, based on the nonfiction book by David Gann. Camera: Rodrigo Prieto. Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker. Music: Robbie Robertson.
  • With: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser, Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, Jillian Dion, Jason Isbell, William Belleau, Louis Cancelmi, Scott Shepherd.

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killing of the flower moon movie review

  • DVD & Streaming , In Theaters

Killers of the Flower Moon

  • Biography/History , Crime , Drama

Content Caution

Killers of the Flower Moon 2023

In Theaters

  • October 20, 2023
  • Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart; Robert De Niro as William “King” Hale; Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart; Jesse Plemons as Tom White; Tantoo Cardinal as Lizzie Q; John Lithgow as Prosecutor Leaward; Brendan Fraser as W. S. Hamilton; Cara Jade Myers as Anna Brown; JaNae Collins as Reta; Jillian Dion as Minnie; Jason Isbell as Bill Smith; William Belleau as Henry Roan; Louis Cancelmi as Kelsie Morrison; Scott Shepherd as Bryan Burkhart

Home Release Date

  • November 3, 2023
  • Martin Scorsese

Distributor

  • Paramount Pictures; Apple TV+

Movie Review

Oklahoma’s earth is dark, rich. Corn, cotton and wheat all grow well here. Lush native grasses offer livestock plenty of grazing.

And the wildflowers! The people of the Osage Nation marveled at their springtime beauty, blooming during what they called the Flower Moon.

But in the 1920s, nothing in Oklahoma grew as thick, as easily, as greed.

The oil under the earth is dark, rich. Those new automobiles thirst for it. And people do, too. But in this northern corner of Oklahoma, that dirty, dark liquid belongs to the Osage—a people pushed to this territory when no one else wanted it. They bought their reservation outright from the government in 1872—a rarity, to be sure. As such, they kept the land’s mineral rights.

Two decades later, oil gurgled up through the dirt. And just like that, the Osage people became the richest people, per capita, on the planet.

But just as pollen draws bees, wealth draws thieves, charlatans and worse.

Ernest Burkhart arrives in Fairfax, Oklahoma, shortly after World War I. He needs a job. And his uncle, William “King” Hale, says he might have one. Admittedly, Ernest can’t do much: His gut keeps Ernest from heavy labor, and the guy’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. But he can drive a car. Yes, that he can do.

And do he does. He serves as a cabbie to the Osage—taking them to and from town, waiting while they do their shopping. But he especially loves driving a woman named Mollie around. Quiet Mollie. Pretty Mollie. Rich Mollie.

That suits King Hale fine, just fine. In fact, he’d like Ernest to get closer yet. Why, he’d love to see them get married, he would. Love is such a beautiful thing. And he thinks the world of Mollie.

‘Course, it doesn’t hurt in King’s calculus that Mollie’s whole family, her mother and three sisters, are filthy rich in oil. One of those sisters has been feeling a bit poorly lately. She might not be long for this world. Mollie’s mother, Lizzie Q, is old and frail. Soon, Mollie’s family might be smaller—and their share of the fortune larger.

And let’s be honest, strange things have been happening around Fairfax. The Osage keep dying young. No one knows why—or, at least, so they say. Could be that Mollie’s sisters might die, too? One’s been known to drink heavily. She carries a gun, too. She’s a ticking time bomb, that one. And the other? Well, you know what they say: Accidents happen.

And Mollie? She suffers from diabetes. And women don’t live long in these parts with diabetes.

And then, when—er, if —all sisters should tragically pass on, that whole fortune might fall right in Ernest’s lap. And that lap is just one step removed from King’s own coffers.

That suits King Hale fine. Just fine.

Positive Elements

Killers of the Flower Moon is based on a true and tragic chapter in American history. It involved the murders and unexplained deaths of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Osage Native Americans in the 1920s. Accordingly, moviegoers meet plenty of nasty, duplicitous characters here. But Osage County has its share of good folks, too.

One of them is, most certainly, Mollie. She clearly loves her family and serves as a dutiful (if somewhat overlooked) daughter to her mother, Lizzie Q. She cares for Lizzie in her last sickness and does what she can to help her other sisters, too. And when she marries Ernest, she seems to be a good, fair, mother to their kids.

But she’s as concerned about these unexplained deaths as anyone, and she’s determined to put them to a stop. She, along with other Osage, sends a representative to Washington, D.C., to find official governmental help. She hires a private investigator. And when both of those people mysteriously disappear, she goes to Washington herself—despite being debilitatingly ill.

We see other people, both Osage and white, attempt to solve these murders or to stand up to the suspected perpetrators. And eventually, help does come down from Washington: Tom White, who introduces himself as an agent for the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation.

At first, White comes across as a deferential, ineffective investigator—all too willing to back down and come back at a time more convenient for his prime suspects. But as the film goes on, White’s strategy becomes more clear: He acts as public face of the investigation while the real detecting is done by undercover operators.

Spiritual Elements

The spiritual atmosphere in Killers of the Flower Moon comes in layers.

We see a lot of Osage ceremonies. Marriages, burials, christenings and celebrations all come with an indigenous twang. A pipe is buried in a sad ceremony, representing the passing of the Osage way of life. Apples are left on the lids of coffins, and little children sometimes are made to walk across them. Osage leaders, and others, occasionally reference “Wah-Kon-Tah,” the Osage creator spirit.

But many Osage who participate in these ceremonies also consider themselves Christian. Leaders who invoked Wah-Kon-Tah openly talk about the Lord and heaven as well, suggesting that the Osage consider the two to be one and the same. Funerals and christenings, while incorporating some specifically Osage rituals, appear to be largely rooted in the Christian faith (with priests presiding over the ceremony). And the movie suggests that at least during this period of time, Osage traditional beliefs have blended with Christian faith.

The real Mollie Burkhart was said to have been a devout Catholic, and her faith is reflected in the movie. When Ernest tells her that he’s a Christian, she notes that she’s not seen him in church. When he attends with her, she snickers a bit when he stands as everyone else bends to kneel. And as the story grows darker, Mollie chooses to confess one of her most deeply held fears and suspicions to her Catholic priest. But when Ernest joins her for dinner one night and a huge storm rages through, Mollie demands that the two of them remain quiet during the storm—a deluge that she believes carries special power.

King Hale certainly wants people to think he’s a devoted Christian. He tells Ernest that the Osage are the best people on “God’s green Earth.” He references Bible verses and stories frequently, and he sometimes breaks into spontaneous prayer. But he’s been known to invoke Wah-Kon-Tah as well—largely to show his solidarity with and support of the Osage people.

Osage women see visions of owls, which they interpret as ill omens for themselves and for their people. We hear about dreams and what they might mean—including one where Mollie worries about a relative not being able to go into the afterlife because her body didn’t have a face. A woman—dying or dead—crosses over into the afterlife, guided by ancestors and/or loved ones.

Sexual Content

When Ernest first arrives, King quizzes him about his sexual experiences and inclinations. He asks him whether he came back from World War I with any “diseases” (his meaning crudely obvious through context) and whether he likes women. When Ernest says he does, King asks, “red women?” Ernest says he likes women of all colors (including blue) and of all shapes and sizes. “I’m greedy,” he adds.

Soon (with a bit of encouragement from King), Ernest develops a special attraction to Mollie. The two grow closer, both romantically and physically. They make out furiously in a truck (with Ernest’s hand wedged against Mollie’s chest through her garments) when Ernest asks Mollie to marry him. We see the couple making out elsewhere—sometimes revealing a bit of skin but nothing critical. When Mollie pulls Ernest on top of her in bed, Ernest jokes that Mollie’s trying to wake the children.

Anna, Mollie’s provocative sister, believes that she’s the girlfriend of Bryan Burkhart, Ernest’s older brother (and a close King confidante). In a public setting, Bryan accuses her of being with other men and shrugs off the idea they were involved at all. (Anna crudely insists otherwise.) When Bryan then makes some lewd moves on a nearby maid—including coming close and holding her around the middle—Anna grows angry and threatens to kill them both.

[ Spoiler Warning ] When Anna is found dead later, doctors discover that she was pregnant, and King suggests that it might be his child.

A scene takes place in what seems to be a saloon and brothel, with a man clutching the exposed thigh of a woman at a table.

Violent Content

A woman is found dead—the body having been left to the elements for several days. We don’t see much of the corpse, but we do hear as doctors saw open the victim’s skull, then stick something into the brain to, apparently, find the bullet lodged there. We later see the actual murder from a distance—done via revolver close to the head. We’re told that the body was later exhumed, perhaps flayed and finally cut into bits.

An explosion rips through a family home. One woman is found lying dead; when would-be rescuers lift the body, the back of her skull flaps open. A survivor of the blast screams for someone to shoot him. (We only see part of him, bloodied and trapped under debris.) Someone at the site steps on the part of a disembodied hand. He’s told that it likely belongs to the maid; parts of her body have been retrieved all evening.

We see other, less gruesome murders and killings. Someone is instructed to make one murder look like a suicide; but that plan is foiled when the victim is shot in the back of the head, and the killer takes the gun with him. A young mother is shot on a well-manicured front lawn, shortly after putting a baby in a buggy. The killer then spirits the baby back inside as the woman’s body is left to bleed on the lawn. (Coroners later determined the death to be a suicide.)

Would-be robbers are thwarted by a store owner, who shoots the first man to break in with a shotgun. (We see the bloodied body.) Another man, his head already bleeding, drives his car into a tree. (A friend of his tells authorities that an “angel” took him.)

Someone else gets gunned down. A body is found in a pool of muddy water or oil. A man drinks poisoned liquor, apparently, and jerks on the floor as he dies, foaming at the mouth. Several people die from mysterious diseases, and we see their bodies prepped for burial. Two people are beaten to death. (We see parts of the attacks and the bodies thereafter.)

People contract other people to kill. Threats are made. A young girl dies from disease, and we see her dead body. People fight at a train station. Part of a ranch burns. Someone threatens self-harm, and we hear that this individual tried to commit suicide earlier.

Crude or Profane Language

One or two uses of the f-word and about a half-dozen s-words. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “b–tard,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is abused about a dozen times, the majority of those misuses with the word “d–n.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

While the movie takes place during Prohibition, alcohol still flows freely in this corner of the United States. Anna, Mollie’s sister, has a drinking problem. (And the film suggests that her habit was encouraged by King.) We see her often tipsy or drunk. When Mollie reprimands her for already being snockered one morning, Anna brags that she’s never been to bed.

Another Osage, Henry, has his own dependence on alcohol encouraged. Prone to despondency, he demands that someone either give him booze or give him a gun (so he, presumably, can take his own life). In the end, a man introduces Henry to a particularly potent form of moonshine. The two drink together frequently before their relationship is, shall we say, terminated.

We see where that moonshine is made, and are introduced to those who make it. Later, that alcohol still is found completely torn apart.

Over dinner during their short courtship, Mollie asks Ernest whether he likes whiskey. He sorely does, Ernest says, and she promises him that the whiskey she has is top-shelf stuff. The two drink it then and elsewhere. King and Ernest also drink together.

Mollie, Ernest and others smoke cigarettes. King smokes the occasional cigar.

[ Spoiler Warning ] Mollie receives what are called insulin injections, but they only seem to make her sicker. As her search for the Osage killers continues, Ernest is asked to mix another substance into the insulin, which (he’s told) will just “calm her down.” Ernest, either suspicious or curious, dumps some of the substance into his own whiskey and drinks it down.

Other Negative Elements

Toward the end of Mollie’s sickness, she often clutches a pot in bed, apparently to vomit into.

While the Osage may be rich, they’re subjected to a great deal of prejudice and bigotry—and in a number of different shades. Some folks are semi-openly hostile to the Native Americans, robbing them while wearing sacks of their heads and hurling derogatory slurs in their direction.

But a lot of the abuse is more veiled. Some people seem to think that the Osages’ wealth is an aberration, and that the oil will inevitably make its way into the hands of white Americans, whom they believe are the more deserving race. Certainly, the white power structure around Osage county turns a disturbingly blind eye to the murders and injustices committed there, and the federal government also seems slow to respond.

As far as enumerating all the many underhanded tricks and schemes in play … well, we’d likely run out of room.

People rob graves and gamble with the stolen loot. A Ku Klux Klan troop marches openly through Fairfax’s main street.

Killers of the Flower Moon is, as mentioned, based on a 2017 non-fiction book by journalist David Grann, which unpacked a grim chapter of American history—the wrongs of which were only partly addressed. At least 60 Osage Native Americans were killed between 1918 and 1931 in Osage County, with other suspicious deaths perhaps ballooning that total into the hundreds. Many of the murders were never solved.

Those tragic, complex underpinnings make for a rather grim movie. We’re subjected to so many jarring deaths and, sometimes, wince-worthy gore. Stretching over three-and-a-half hours, Killers of the Flower Moon can be a hard film to take in. It’s not really slow, and it’s never really boring. But it can feel like an Oklahoma storm, loud and terrible, where we’re trapped inside.

And yet, Killers of the Flower Moon also showcases director Martin Scorsese’s late-career movie mastery—and illustrates some perhaps unexpected restraint.

Scorsese’s films, from Taxi Driver to Goodfellas to The Wolf of Wall Street , are among cinema’s most lauded works—but they’re among the most problematic, too. Scorsese’s storytelling is invariably riveting but often outrageously bloody, foul and, in the case of Wolf , flat-out gratuitous.

And yet for Scorsese, even that gratuity comes with a message. In that case, the director insists that all that extreme content was necessary to tell what he considered to be a cautionary tale.

In Killers of the Flower Moon , Scorsese gives us another cautionary tale, but without the gratuity. Yes, he’s aided by the movie’s time setting, when the f-word wasn’t hurled like pebbles on a playground. Yes, the movie is still rated R, and with reason. Killers mangle bodies and snuff out lives with barely a backward glance.

But those moments of grotesquery remind us of the dehumanizing racism at play here: These aren’t murders , the killers seem to think. Just messy jobs . Even as King Hale praises the Osage people as being the “best on God’s green Earth,” he schemes and plots and, without lifting a finger, kills to pad his own portfolio. God and the good ol’ boys form convenient cover for the worst of crimes.

On the other side, we’re given the quiet, determined dignity of Mollie Burkhart—a woman of deeper faith and stronger conviction. And in the middle wavers her husband, Ernest.

In a telling scene, Ernest cackles about how much he loves money—loves it almost as much as his wife. And therein lies the moral struggle of Killers of the Flower Moon : the pull and power of greed that can tear you away from what you truly should love, what you truly should value.

The Plugged In Show logo

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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In 'Killers of the Flower Moon,' Martin Scorsese crafts a gripping story of love, murder

  • Oops! Something went wrong. Please try again later. More content below

Martin Scorsese crafts a powerful and awesome crime story with “ Killers of the Flower Moon .” And this might be the most impressive aspect of a terrific movie: The legendary filmmaker makes every minute of its 3 ½ hours narratively important and essential.

There’s no filler in the true-life "Killers" (★★★★ out of four; rated R), based on the 2017 David Grann book about the Osage murders in 1920s Oklahoma. Armed with a stellar ensemble led by frequent Scorsese collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro – with a stunning breakthrough performance by Lily Gladstone – “Flower Moon” is a gripping story about true love and white greed that wrestles with America’s complicated history concerning Indigenous people. This is top-shelf Scorsese and as with his best movies ("The Wolf of Wall Street," "The Departed"), “Flower Moon” is as entertaining as it is thoughtful.

“Killers” centers on the Osage Nation, a Native American tribe that became extremely wealthy when oil was found on its land and members had "headrights" (the right to payments from a collective trust) that at first could be inherited by outsiders.

That’s important to know as the film starts, when World War I veteran Ernest Burkhardt (DiCaprio) arrives in the town of Fairfax to work for his uncle, politically minded cattle rancher William King Hale (De Niro). King has a good relationship with the Osage people and, although he considers them “sickly,” pushes his nephew to consider courting a Native American woman.

Fact check: 'Killers of the Flower Moon' is a true story, but it underplays extent of Osage murders

Ernest meets Mollie (Gladstone), a quiet but clever Osage woman he drives to and from town. The place is full of wild white dudes racing around in cars, but Mollie finds a certain charm in Ernest. (She describes him to one of her sisters as handsome but kind of a “coyote.”) They get to know each other, he meets her mom (Tantoo Cardinal) and is introduced to Osage traditions, and they eventually marry and start a family.

At the same time, Osage deaths begin to pile up. Some are deemed suicide, some aren’t even investigated, but to anyone paying attention, tribe members are being targeted. Tragedy hits home for Mollie, as relatives die due to foul play, and she’s forced to question whom she trusts most. Ultimately, the FBI shows up – led by ex-Texas Ranger Tom White (Jesse Plemons) – as the well-paced narrative rolls to a conclusion as characters make hard decisions about family members.

Scorsese masterfully weaves together different genres in concert, some of them unlikely: There’s a bit of romantic comedy in the early stages of Ernest and Mollie’s relationship before all the murder mystery, domestic drama, courtroom thriller and gangster-flick elements. The script by Scorsese and Eric Roth puts an emphasis on the Osage mindset and plight with a sprinkling of dark humor, the cinematography is amazing and a stirring final score by the late Robbie Robertson keeps the intimately sprawling tale humming.

From top to bottom of the cast, Scorsese has the ability to wring the best out of his thespians. De Niro is simply on another level when working with the director, and “Flower Moon” lets the actor balance a certain small-town likability with predatory menace. Scorsese puts together some intriguing interactions: Movie fans will delight at seeing the heavyweight De Niro vs. Plemons, one of the best character actors of his generation, and guys like John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser make the most of their supporting turns.

‘Maybe we’re all capable of this’: Martin Scorsese on ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ movie

But it’s the dynamic between DiCaprio and Gladstone that gives the film a beating heart. While DiCaprio won an Oscar for “The Revenant,” he’s better here as a devoted husband who's torn between love for his wife and loyalty to (and fear of) an imperious uncle. Gladstone, though, is the most important person on screen, navigating a deep character arc full of love and pain.

The villains are fairly obvious in “Flower Moon,” but Scorsese asks audiences to take a wider look at systemic racism, historical injustice and the corruptive influence of power and money, intriguingly tying together our past and present.

How to watch

What:  "Killers of the Flower Moon" Talking Pictures screening at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (a screening followed by a conversation with Indigenous Casting Director Rene Haynes, Costume Designer Jacqueline West, and Set Decorator Adam Willis)

When and where:  10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 6

Cost:  $25 (stand-by tickets only)

More info:   psfilmfest.org

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Killers of the Flower Moon' review: Leo DiCaprio leads riveting cast

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'Killers of the Flower Moon' Book to Film Comparison

Posted: October 27, 2023 | Last updated: October 27, 2023

Editor's note: The following contains spoilers for Killers of the Flower Moon.

  • The film version of Killers of the Flower Moon centers more on Lily Gladstone's character of Mollie than the book does, keeping her story at the forefront throughout.
  • Robert De Niro's character of William Hale is portrayed as clearly evil from the start, openly plotting more murders for money, adding to the unsettling nature of the film.
  • Killers of the Flower Moon is not a mystery for the FBI to solve, but rather a story that highlights the deep-rooted corruption and harm done, with no real justice being able to fully repair the damage. Scorsese brings attention to this through an unexpected cameo and breaking of the fourth wall.

Of all the historical dramas you’ll ever see, there are few that make such critically significant changes from their source material quite like Martin Scorsese ’s Killers of the Flower Moon . Starring Leonardo DiCaprio , Lily Gladstone , and Robert De Niro , it depicts the true story of how the Osage were murdered for their wealth in 1920s Oklahoma. Though based on the 2017 book of the same name by David Grann , it could not be more different in focus and scope the longer that you get into it. While the story remains the same, the way Scorsese goes about telling it is crucial to its impact. Thus, here are the differences between the book and the film.

Killers of the Flower Moon

Lily gladstone’s mollie is more central in 'killers of the flower moon'.

Not only is the film at its best when Gladstone is on screen , but it is much more centered around her character of Mollie than the book was. Though it still could have very well had more of her, that is just a reason to seek out works like the upcoming Fancy Dance however you can. In regards to this film, it shifts away from being about the formation of the FBI as much as the book was to instead keep her at the forefront. Rather than just relying on the knowledge that Mollie was being poisoned and leaving that in the background while the investigation unfolds as Grann did, this grim core to the film is something that we are never allowed to forget. As Scorsese has himself said in interviews , there was a desire on his part to do right by the Osage in telling this story. While the film remains more than open to criticism in how it does so , this reframing of the story still is one of the primary ways it works to distinguish itself from the book. There is more detail to this that plays out in the very end, but there are a couple of other key elements that must be discussed before this.

Robert De Niro’s William Hale Is Clearly Evil From the Start in 'Killers of the Flower Moon'

Not only is De Niro’s most recent collaboration unlike anything he and Scorsese have ever done together , but it is also one where his character of Hale is revealed as being a wolf in sheep’s clothing almost right from the jump. The book played the eventual reveal of him being the one behind all of the killings as a surprise, which is another fundamental difference in framing that we’ll get to, while the film does almost the complete opposite. We know rather quickly what Hale is doing because he lays it all out to Ernest (DiCaprio) the more the two talk together. The depths of his depravity are no less horrifying because of this. In fact, it makes it that much more unsettling to see De Niro's Hale openly plot to set more and more murders in motion for money. He does it in almost plain sight, making each outburst of violence feel like another slow-moving train about to decimate an entire community. The terror comes from how everyone who could stop it not only chooses not to do so, but hurries it along.

'Killers of the Flower Moon' Is Not About the FBI Solving a Mystery

Though Jesse Plemons does make a great small appearance towards the end of the film as investigator Tom White, who was essentially the driving force of the entire middle of the book, this is not a story where the cavalry from the government will swoop in to save the day. To Grann’s credit, he also acknowledged at several points how their coming in was not only not enough to repair the harm that was done, but they also missed out on what were certainly countless more murders. Scorsese takes it a step further in how he pushes us to sit with the full scope of just how rotten to the core the entire situation was. Where the book treated it as a mystery to be solved, there are no discoveries to be made here. Once White and his team of investigators show up, there are so many lives that have been lost that will never be brought back. We already know who is behind it and are just waiting for the supposed forces of justice to catch up before even more is lost. The reality of it all is that they will only be able to stem the flow of blood, but not fully heal the wound. In many ways, that is where Scorsese makes what is his final yet most significant change to not just this story, but any film he's ever made.

Scorsese Himself Steps Under the Spotlight in 'Killers of the Flower Moon'

In an unexpected cameo where the director pulls back the curtain on the whole film , we are taken out of the story and into a radio play. Though Grann had made reference to such events and the way they sanded down the full reality of what happened, Scorsese actually goes about bringing it to life. It then ends with him stepping on the stage himself to deliver the final lines of the film about how Mollie’s obituary did not mention the murders. It is the type of breaking of the fourth wall that is a huge gamble, but it brings into focus how the immense harm that was wrought upon the Osage is not something that can be confined to the past. For all the horrors of the past, the present is just as much about recreating that same dehumanization. Scorsese does not let himself off the hook in that and instead shows how there is still much that he is doing which cannot fully do justice to this history. As he brings us all the way into the present, it leaves one more lingering moment of enduring pain to grapple with.

'Killers of the Flower Moon' Book to Film Comparison

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  5. Killers of the Flower Moon Movie: What We Know (Release Date, Cast

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VIDEO

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  6. Crews To Shoot Additional 'Killers Of The Flower Moon' Scenes In Pawhuska

COMMENTS

  1. Killers of the Flower Moon movie review (2023)

    Powered by JustWatch "Can you find the wolves in this picture," Ernest Burkhardt ( Leonardo DiCaprio) reads aloud as he works his way through a children's book early in Martin Scorsese 's "Killers of the Flower Moon."

  2. Killers of the Flower Moon

    Jeffrey Peterson Naija Nerds With Killers of the Flower Moon, Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Scorsese deliver a well-crafted epic that contextualizes white, American...

  3. Killers of the Flower Moon

    93% Tomatometer 448 Reviews 84% Audience Score 2,500+ Verified Ratings What to know Critics Consensus Enormous in runtime, theme, and achievement, Killers of the Flower Moon is a sobering...

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    Killers of the Flower Moon review - Scorsese's remarkable epic about the bloody birth of modern America Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone star in this macabre western about...

  5. 'Killers of the Flower Moon' Review: An Unsettling Masterpiece

    'Killers of the Flower Moon' Review: An Unsettling Masterpiece - The New York Times Martin Scorsese's three-and-a-half-hour epic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is a romance, a western, a...

  6. 'Killers of the Flower Moon' got rave reviews from most critics, except

    Entertainment 'Killers of the Flower Moon' got rave reviews from most critics, except one who said watching the movie was 'akin to being locked in a room with a pair of soulless sadists' Olivia Singh Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Killers of the Flower Moon." Courtesy of Apple

  7. Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

    IMDb RATING 7.8 /10 143K YOUR RATING Rate POPULARITY 20 Play trailer 1:07 32 Videos 99+ Photos Crime Drama History When oil is discovered in 1920s Oklahoma under Osage Nation land, the Osage people are murdered one by one - until the FBI steps in to unravel the mystery. Director Martin Scorsese Writers Eric Roth Martin Scorsese David Grann Stars

  8. Killers of the Flower Moon review

    It's a glorious performance, stumbling cluelessly around the edge of tragicomedy, and an intriguing change of gear for the usually whiplash-witted DiCaprio. It's also, however, one of the few...

  9. Killers of the Flower Moon Review

    This review originally ran following the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. Killers of the Flower Moon is as brutal as they come. It spans dozens of murders over several years, across a herculean 206 ...

  10. 'Killers of the Flower Moon' review: Scorsese centers men and violence

    Martin Scorsese's film, based on David Grann's book, tells the true story of white men in the 1920s who married into and systematically murdered Osage families to gain claims to their oil-rich land.

  11. 'Hollywood doesn't change overnight': Indigenous viewers on Killers of

    They praise the movie's effort to highlight Osage history with Indigenous actors in prominent roles but express reservations about its graphic violence and lack of historical context,...

  12. 'Killers of the Flower Moon' review: Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio

    Review by Brian Lowry, CNN 4 minute read Published 8:35 AM EDT, Thu October 19, 2023 Link Copied! Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Killers of the Flower Moon." Apple TV+ CNN — There's...

  13. 'Killers of the Flower Moon' review: Scorsese disappoints at Cannes

    (Melinda Sue Gordon / Apple) By Justin Chang Film Critic May 20, 2023 12:45 PM PT CANNES, France — Like more than a few Martin Scorsese epics, the searing, sprawling "Killers of the Flower...

  14. Review

    Review by Ann Hornaday October 18, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. EDT Robert De Niro, left, and Jesse Plemons in "Killers of the Flower Moon." (Melinda Sue Gordon/Apple TV Plus) 6 min ( 3 stars) The four...

  15. Killers of the Flower Moon review

    It's also the richest, strongest movie he's made in nearly 30 years. Back from the war, Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) needs money, a fresh start and perhaps a young wife. His uncle, William Hale ...

  16. Dramatic and Moral Ambitions Clash in "Killers of the Flower Moon

    Anthony Lane reviews Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon," an epic drama about the Osage murders, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone.

  17. 'Killers of the Flower Moon' Review: Scorsese's Overlong ...

    Film Reviews May 20, 2023 12:45pm PT 'Killers of the Flower Moon' Review: Martin Scorsese's Osage Murders Movie Is Overlong but Never Slow Instead of focusing his cameras on the Native...

  18. 'Killers of the Flower Moon' review: Scorsese's flawed epic

    Review: 'Killers of the Flower Moon' is a powerful historical epic — and a qualified triumph Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone in the movie "Killers of the Flower Moon." (Melinda Sue...

  19. Killers of the Flower Moon film review

    The director is on new ground here, the political allegory never clearer. Yet the film is still Scorsese to the core. There are grand train-set arrangements of extras, bright curlicues of ...

  20. Killers of the Flower Moon review: Scorsese's handsome Western is ...

    Killers of The Flower Moon is a handsome, painstakingly researched Western drama with seemingly no expense spared on its costumes, vintage cars and reconstructed frontier towns. It's punctuated...

  21. Killers of the Flower Moon

    Paul Asay Movie Review Oklahoma's earth is dark, rich. Corn, cotton and wheat all grow well here. Lush native grasses offer livestock plenty of grazing. And the wildflowers! The people of the Osage Nation marveled at their springtime beauty, blooming during what they called the Flower Moon.

  22. Killers of the Flower Moon (film)

    Over time, they raise three children. Hale secretly orders the contract killings of multiple wealthy Osage. He explains that Ernest will inherit more headrights if more of Mollie's family dies. Mollie is diabetic, and her mother Lizzie is ill.

  23. In 'Killers of the Flower Moon,' Martin Scorsese crafts a ...

    Martin Scorsese crafts a powerful and awesome crime story with "Killers of the Flower Moon."And this might be the most impressive aspect of a terrific movie: The legendary filmmaker makes ...

  24. Killers of the Flower Moon

    Martin Scorsese adapts the novel of the same name, telling the true story of the plot to murder people of the Osage tribe, and steal their wealth. Here's my ...

  25. 'Killers of the Flower Moon' Book to Film Comparison

    Release Date 2023-10-20. Director Martin Scorsese. Cast Cara Jade Myers, Robert De Niro, Tantoo Cardinal, Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio, John Lithgow, Jesse Plemons, Brendan Fraser. Rating R ...