Killers of the Flower Moon

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades


Who makes better gangster movies than Martin Scorsese? Think: “Goodfellas,” “The Irishman,” “Casino,” “Mean Streets.”

Okay, maybe Frances Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” trilogy. But this review is about Scorsese’s latest movie, now showing in theaters … it’s a, well, uh, Western.

Wait, am I telling you that Academy Award-winning director Martin Charles Scorsese, a proud Italian-American filmmaker who is renown for his tough-guy films influenced by his upbringing in New York City, films that “center on macho-posturing men and explore crime, machismo, nihilism and Catholic concepts of guilt and redemption” has made a movie about cowboys and Indians?

Yes and no.

Scorsese’s new epic (it’s 3 ½ hours long) does take place on an Oklahoma Indian Reservation back in the ‘20s. But it’s actually a crime drama involving the murder of members of the Osage Tribe after oil is discovered on tribal land. This involves J. Edgar Hoover’s fledgling Bureau of Investigation.

And true to form, Scorsese called on his familiar “repertoire company” to cast the movie: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Di Niro, and Jesse Plemons. Backup cast includes such notables as John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser, and Barry Corbin. And, needless to say, in these anti-whitewashing times, a number of Indigenous Americans round out the key players – Lily Gladstone, Yancey Red Corn, Everett Waller, Talee Redcorn, Larry Sellers, and Tatanka Wanbli Sapa Xila Sabe Means.

The film focuses on the twisted history of Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a white man married to an Osage tribe member (Lily Gladstone) while he and his uncle Bill Hale (Robert De Niro) are actively killing Osage people — including poisoning his wife.

A semi-true story, the film is based on the nonfiction book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” written by journalist David Grann. Between 1920 and 1925 there were more than 60 mysterious or unsolved murders in Osage County, all dealing with Osage headright holders. (A “headright” is the right to receive a quarterly distribution of funds derived from the Osage Mineral Estate.) Guann calls it “one of the most mysterious and sinister crimes in American history.”

Where does the title come from? According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Native American tribes referred to the full Moon in May as the “Flower Moon” because of the flowers blooming across North America, signaling abundance after a cold, hard winter. So David Grann used the symbol of the flower-killing moon to represent what happened to the Osage at the hands of Whites: “Like the smaller flowers, their resources are stolen and they die.”

Scorsese had long wanted to make the film. He called the story “a sober look at who we are as a culture.”

“It’s not a white-savior story,” affirmed Lily Gladstone, who is of Blackfeet and Nimíipuu heritage. She added, “American history is not history without Native history.”

The Guardian calls it “a macabre tale of quasi-genocidal serial killings.” Variety laments its run time: “In its present form, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ is still a compelling true story … 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.” But he Hollywood Reporter defends its length: “The three-and-a-half-hour running time is fully justified in an escalating tragedy that never loosens its grip.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, where it received a nine-minute standing ovation.

What next for Martin Scorsese?

Well, maybe a film about the Grateful Dead. Scorsese does like his forays into the music world. Think: “The Last Waltz,” “Shine A Light,” “The Blues: Feel Like Going Home,” “George Harrison: Living In The Material World,” and “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese.”

While promoting “Killers of the Flower Moon,” 80-year-old Scorsese spoke of his eagerness to continue working, stating that “I’m old. I read stuff. I see things. I want to tell stories, and there’s no more time.”

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