Written by: Hannah Tran | October 18th, 2023
Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese, 2023) 4 out of 4 stars.
There’s really no need to explain the genius of Martin Scorsese. In his latest work, Killers of the Flower Moon, he showcases his brilliance once again. Based on the 2017 book by David Grann, this film details the profoundly tragic true story of the widely overlooked murder of members of the Osage Nation, targeted for their royalties after discovering oil. Framed through the heartbreaking romance of Ernest Burkhart and his wife Mollie, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood) and Lily Gladstone (Fancy Dance), the movie is a testament to Scorsese’s impactful sentimentality and fervor for his subjects. As the sun sets on the Old West, this story pierces through the myth of a new world on the horizon and clearly understands how the sinister horrors of the past persist in more common and elusive ways.
Ernest Burkhart stands out as one of the most rich and complex characters ever committed to screen. A collaborative effort between DiCaprio and writers Eric Roth and Martin Scorsese, Burkhart emerges as a character with astonishing duality. His childlike admiration of his family and blind commitment to their instruction illuminates the complex manipulation that governs his life and decision-making. His lack of understanding casts him as both a sympathetic victim and a pathetic perpetrator of the violence around him.
What makes his betrayal most devastating is the palpable love he holds for Mollie. As Mollie, Gladstone parallels DiCaprio’s juvenile intelligence with a mature warmth and a quiet intensity that makes her endearing. She characterizes the lasting toll that these tragedies had on the Osage people with her visceral sense of exhaustion that builds throughout the narrative.
On the other hand, as Burkhart’s calculating uncle, Robert De Niro (The Irishman) brings a trustworthy charm to his character that embodies the duplicity lurking beneath the surface. De Niro’s performance and character serve as a perfect example of what makes the drama leave such a lasting impression. The evils in this world don’t announce themselves outright. Instead, they move like a slow-acting poison. Scorsese fully gives into this slow-burn approach, trusting the audience to distinguish the difference between truth and lies, and he rewards, punishes, and surprises them with the fallout.
Everything in the film serves to immerse the audience in its world. Rodrigo Prieto’s unpretentious cinematography captures the vastness of the landscape and the contrast between the white perspective and the Osage culture. The use of period-accurate black-and-white photography adds a stylish and historically immersive context to Osage history. Moreover, in his final score before his death, musician Robbie Robertson creates a propulsive atmosphere with guitars and drums. The music is simple, but the constant presence of it seems to foretell the inevitable doom ahead.
In Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese has crafted a layered work of art. It begs to be unfolded further with time and perspective. Every second of the film is effective, and each moment builds into something greater as the final images linger on the screen, and, surely, in our minds long after they fade to black.