M.I.O. Movie Review: Killers of the Flower Moon
9:58 AM EDT on October 19, 2023
Oil in their blood. Blood on the plains.
Much like the Greenwood Race Massacre in Tulsa, Killers of the Flower Moon depicts a very real event in Oklahoma history – one that has largely remained forgotten outside of those Indigenous who remember it.
Whitewashed by history, the tragedy finally gained local and national exposure thanks to the best-selling book of the same name by David Grann, and has now reached the mainstream masses thanks to the hyped and acclaimed film by Martin Scorsese.
I must say, the hype and acclaim are very due, as Killers is the best film of 2023, both in scope and narrative, giving the topic of the Osage murders the best job a corporate motion picture studio system can do.
Much like his work in films like Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and even The Wolf of Wall Street, screenwriters Scorsese and Eric Roth show the country called America through the dirty criminal element that invades a peaceful community for the almighty dollar, among other excesses.
But, it’s very pointed: In Killers, it’s white people all trying to slay the well-to-do Indigenous people who toiled on that land.
The fact-based film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhard – a disheveled man who comes to Oklahoma in the 1920’s to work for his uncle William Hale (Robert DeNiro). Seeped into the Osage culture in the town of Fairfax, Ernest slithers into the framework and is slowly seduced by the deadly sins available.
Along the way, he meets Mollie (Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman with land rights to the overflowing oil reserves. Together, they court and eventually marry. Over time, Ernest becomes more embroiled in his Uncle’s orchestrated butchery of the Osage people, with even his wife not spared by his cruelty.
While the law somewhat catches him and hits him with some flicks on the wrist through wheeling and dealing in the court system, it is, for the most part, all for naught…until the book and now the film, nearly 100 years have passed since the murders were committed.
Cementing his brilliant artist’s persona—something I knew existed since watch The Last Temptation of Christ—Killers shows that Scorsese’s summation of the tepid Marvel movies is completely true: film is not an amusement ride—it’s real work. It is his work.
While Leo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro are, of course, superlative, it’s Lily Gladstone's career-defining performance that takes center stage. Her mannerisms, her grace, and her hint of subtle humor are a tour de force, taking the knife out of her back from Burkhard and his cronies and walking away.
Also, the score by the late Robbie Robertson of The Band is incredibly apropos for this film. The mix of Native drums and electric guitars brings the new and the old together, with his own Indigenous identity burned on the fretboard.
In the end, the best thing to get out of Killers of the Flower Moon, more than the clamor of the film, is the awareness the movie brings about these killings. For hundreds of years—hell, even one year—Indigenous people have been fighting an uphill battle to have our voices heard, and films like this help with the burden.
I hope this remarkable film gives the restless spirits of the Killer Moon some semblance of closure, as well as new hope to win the raging war against our Tribal history.