Scorsese's Masterpiece: A Deep Dive into Greed, Betrayal, and the Shadows of American History
Native woman and white man at a dinner table

(Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio Apple TV+)

Martin Scorsese paints a vast canvas of greed, betrayal, and twisted love in "Killers of the Flower Moon." This sweeping epic, a suspense-filled crime drama, is adapted from David Grann's acclaimed book, revealing a dark chapter in American history. It explores the Osage Nation in 1920s Oklahoma, who, after striking "black gold" (oil), faced mysterious murders. At 80, Scorsese still pushes cinema's boundaries.

After serving as a cook in World War I, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns to Oklahoma and meets his influential Uncle, William Hale (Robert De Niro), known as the "King," Hale's power in the Osage Indian Reservation comes from cattle ranching and deep community ties. Driven by greed, Hale persuades Ernest to marry Mollie (Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman with a potential oil inheritance. As tragedies strike Mollie's family, FBI Agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons) is sent to investigate the suspicious events.

Scorsese crafts "Killers of the Flower Moon" as a captivating western with authentic sets and a direct narrative. Instead of shocking twists, he delves deep into the story's themes and characters, making it clear who the culprits are from the start.

The character-driven focus allows for standout performances from DiCaprio, Gladstone, and De Niro. DiCaprio's portrayal of Ernest is multilayered. To his wife, he appears as an upstanding man on the surface, but he harbors a dark secret that's impossible to grapple with. Influenced by his uncle Hale, Ernest becomes increasingly tangled in murder. Leo masterfully balances this character's greed and innocence, accentuated by the sharp dialogue from Scorsese and Eric Roth, leading to some surprising comedic moments when he confronts authority figures.

De Niro's William "King" Hale has two sides: On the outside, a respected figure; behind closed doors, a murderous thug. Fluent in Osage, he talks with elders, showing respect, but secretly plans a scheme for white men's gain. De Niro embodies pure evil in the role. His presence shifts a room's vibe, dominating like a mob boss and manipulating with cold precision and conviction. He's after wealth and land by any means necessary. Unlike Ernest, Hale knows exactly what he's doing and does it confidently and with authority.

Lily Gladstone's Molly Burkhardt represents both her personal pain and that of the Osage people, serving as the story's heartbeat. She serves as the quiet counterpoint to her husband's noisy blunders. Even recognizing Ernest as a money-hungry "coyote," she falls for his charm. Her bravery challenges the justice system as her family dwindles one by one. However, there could have been a deeper focus on the victims' perspectives – a missed opportunity.

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto masterfully captures the grandeur and isolation of the vast land. The late Robbie Robertson's score pierces your soul with chilling dread while sometimes offering peaceful comfort as the echo of a steady drumbeat flows with the narrative.

The camera work is confident, marked by longer, slower takes, enhancing the film's ominous atmosphere. The production design is notable, especially the costumes, which include genuine pieces from the Osage actors' ancestry, adding depth and authenticity to the portrayal of the Osage people.

The brisk pace makes the three-and-a-half-hour runtime engaging. The film is nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster –– it's infuriating and heartbreaking. Once the carnage has settled, Scorsese wraps up with a true crime live radio show to reveal the outcomes for the key players. This serves as a poignant reminder of the incomplete justice in this dark chapter of American history.

"Killers of the Flower Moon" offers a powerful history lesson on humanity's dark side. Trust and betrayal aren't just themes; they drive the message. It challenges us to face the banality of evil and recognize how easily ordinary people commit heinous acts. The film is Scorsese through and through — a poignant reminder of the shadows in history and the danger of forgetting them. If this story doesn't upset you, there's something wrong with you.