Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Killers of the Flower Moon


Based on the non-fiction book by David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon is the story of the real-life Osage Indian murders in Oklahoma from 1918 to 1931 where a man marries an Osage woman unaware that his uncle has been orchestrating these murders. Directed by Martin Scorsese and screenplay by Scorsese and Eric Roth, the film is a revisionist western of sorts that explores a real-life event where men want oil on this tribal sacred land and how it lead to one of the darkest moments in American history that isn’t talked about. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Brendan Fraser, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow, and Robert De Niro. Killers of the Flower Moon is an evocative and harrowing film from Martin Scorsese.

Set in the early 20th Century following World War I, the film revolves around a man who moves with his rich uncle as he meets an Osage woman, whose family owns land with oil, whom he would marry in an attempt to get her money in a scheme with his uncle to get all of the oil and the money. It is a film with a simple plot yet the story itself that is based on a real life event in American history that isn’t talked about very much plays into this world of greed, corruption, deceit, and violence. The film’s screenplay by Martin Scorsese and Eric Roth is largely straightforward in its narrative as it explores how the Osage Nation in Oklahoma in the early 20th Century discovered oil in their land and how they got rich from it. Yet, it also reveals that they would be accompanied by court-appointed white guardians who would look after their money with one of them being William King Hale (Robert de Niro) who is rich himself as he owns a cattle ranch as he is also close with his neighbor in the oil land owner Henry Roan (William Belleau).

Hale is a man who acts as a benefactor to the Osage as well as speak their language as a way to be their friend only to be someone who masterminds everything including killings to ensure that he would get all of their oil and the money from the oil. When his nephew Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) arrives to move in with Hale after serving as an infantryman in World War I. Burkhart is given a job to steal from the Osage with his brother Byron (Scott Shepherd) while also working as a cab driver where he meets and falls for Mollie (Lily Gladstone) whose family owns oil headrights that would keep them rich. Burkhart is someone that wants to have a good life as well as money but he becomes a pawn in his uncle’s schemes as well as putting himself into awful situations that would make things worse. Even as he tries to keep Mollie in the dark yet she would deal with tragedy as her three sisters become targets as well as her mother while becomes mysteriously ill.

It all plays into this sense of intrigue where Mollie hires a private investigator in William J. Burns (Gary Basaraba) who leaves after an incident with a couple of thugs while a white oilman in Barney McBride (Brent Langdon) offered to help the Osage by traveling to Washington D.C. only to not return. Even as things become more violent with Hale getting Burkhart to commit more crimes as the first act is about Burkhart meeting Mollie and marrying her with the second act being the severity of the violence. The film’s third act revolves around the arrival of Thomas Bruce White Sr. (Jesse Plemons) who is an agent for an early version of the FBI after Mollie’s visit to Washington D.C. where Hale finds himself being targeted as does Burkhart who becomes consumed with guilt over his actions.

Scorsese’s direction is mesmerizing in not just the overall presentation of a period in time that saw a lot of prosperity but also a look into the ugliness that played into the events of this real-life incident that many didn’t want to talk about in relation to American history. Shot on location in Oklahoma including areas in Osage and Washington County with Fairfax, Pawhuska, and Bartlesville being main locations for much of the film as the small towns and landscape are key characters in the film. Scorsese opens the film with a ceremony in which an Osage tribe bury a peace pipe as an act of the end of an old tradition as their land would then shoot oil from the ground marking the beginning of a new era. An era that would put the Osage right into the 20th Century wearing more expensive clothing with their tribal blankets as well as live in nice houses while also wanting to maintain a sense of identity and tradition. Even as Scorsese has actors speak in both English and the Osage language with the latter spoken quite frequently.

Scorsese’s usage of wide and medium shots add to the scope of the film as it does play like an epic set in this land where oil is a plenty but there are those that want it by any means necessary. Scorsese doesn’t shy away from the brutality and horror of the violence such as a house being blown up or these wide shots of people being shot as Scorsese showcases a dark reality that many don’t want to talk about. Even as the close-ups also add to the horror with some in the Osage getting a look at something knowing that death is coming. Scorsese’s direction also uses old film stock to recreate some newsreel footage as well as gain some old newsreel such as a clip of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 as it adds fear to the Osage community as the killings become more prevalent. Even as Burkhart is someone who helped engineer these killings and events where he eventually becomes ridden with guilt and shame as he learned the severity of his actions. The events would force Mollie to take action of her own despite severely ill through the medicine she’s been given to combat her diabetes leading to its third act.

The violence does get tone down a bit in the third act where Scorsese’s direction becomes more precise and also chilling in its compositions where he would have shots linger for a bit including the trial scenes. There are also these eerie moments as it plays into not just what Hale has done but also the lengths into what he forced Burkhart to do who finds himself caught in the middle of this chaos. The film’s penultimate scene is told in an unconventional fashion as it relates into the fates of these characters but also into why the Osage murders had almost been forgotten about in American history. Scorsese appears in the scene as it is sort of this moment where the fourth wall is broken as it showcases not just the sense of shame over what had happened but also how past events shouldn’t be forgotten. Overall, Scorsese crafts a viscerally discomforting yet ravishing film about a man who marries an Osage woman in the hope of getting her oil headrights where he would serve as a pawn for his devious uncle.

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of natural light and heightened colors in some of the daytime interior scenes along with some unique lighting for scenes at night including some scenes involving fire as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker does brilliant work with the editing as her usage of rhythmic cuts and jump-cuts help play into the suspense and drama along with a few montages that play into some flashbacks and scenes where it adds to the sense of urgency and terror that looms throughout the film. Production designer Jack Fisk, with set decorator Adam Willis and supervising art directors Michael Diner, Matthew Gatlin, and Meghan McClure, does amazing work with the creation of the sets such as the interiors of the Hale estate as well as the home that Burkhart and Mollie lived in along with a pool hall where Hale and Burkhart would sometimes socialize as it is a highlight of the film. Costume designer Jacqueline West does excellent work with the period costumes from that time including the design of some of the blankets and tribal headgear some of the Osage leaders wear as well as the cowboy hats that some of the men wear including Burkhart and White.

Hair department head Kay Georgiou and makeup department head Thomas Nellen do fantastic work in maintaining a look and hairstyle for the characters to play into the period as well as maintain something simple in those looks. Visual effects supervisors Sam Bassett, Pablo Helman, and Andrew Roberts do terrific work with the visual effects for oil gushing scene early in the film as well as a few other scenes as set dressing. Sound editors Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton do superb work with the sound in the way oil machines sound from afar and up close as well as the way gunfire sounds and other naturalistic sounds that occur throughout the film. The film’s music by Robbie Robertson is phenomenal with its mixture of blues, folk, traditional Native American percussion and woodwinds, and country to play into the period of the time with themes that are unsettling and grimy in its presentation while music supervisor Randall Poster cultivates a soundtrack that features a lot of traditional music with contributions from David Mansfield, Rayna Gellert, Keiran Kane, Philip Jamison, Vince Giordano with the Nighthawks, Adam Nielsen, Adam Stein, and the Osage Tribal Singers who sing an original song for the film for its ending.

The casting by Ellen Lewis is great as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Martin Scorsese as a radio drama producer in the film’s penultimate scene as well as Jack White and Larry Fessenden as a couple of radio drama actors Vince Giordano as a radio drama band leader, Katherine Willis as Burkhart’s aunt Myrtle, Barry Corbin as the local undertaker Turton, the quartet of Larry Sellers, Everett Walker, Talee Redcorn, and Yancey Red Corn as the Osage tribal leaders with Sellers and Redcorn also playing medicine men, Elden Hensen as a Burkhart cousin, Brent Langdon as the white oilman Barney McBride who volunteers to help the Osage in their cause by traveling to Washington D.C. only to somehow never return, Michael Abbott Jr. and Charles Musselwhite as a couple of FBI agents, Tatanka Means as a Native American undercover FBI agent, Pete Yorn as a reclusive explosive expert in Acie Kirby, and Scott Shepherd as Burkhart’s younger brother Byron who often goes along with what his uncle asks him to do.

Other notable small roles include Gary Basaraba as the renowned private investigator Burns who arrives late in the first act only to get into some serious trouble, the quartet of Ty Mitchell, Sturgill Simpson, Tommy Schultz, and Louis Cancelmi in their respective roles as John Ramsey, Henry Grammer, Blackie Thompson, and Kelsie Morrison as accomplices of Hale and Burkhart who help them out in some of the violent acts as they would also either get caught or killed, William Belleau as a melancholic Osage who owns the oil land next to Hale’s land as he is close with Hale only to become a target, the duo of Steve Witting and Steve Routman in their respective roles as Dr. James Shoun and Dr. David Shoun as two brother doctors who work closely to Hale as they would provide Mollie medicine for her diabetes that really isn’t, Jason Isbell as Minnie’s husband Bill Smith who would later marry as he suspects Burkhart in these violent actions, and the trio of Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, and Jillian Dion in their respective roles as Mollie’s sisters in Anna, Reta, and Minnie as they bring fantastic performances as these sisters who are all targets with Myers bringing a lot of charisma as the decadent Anna.

John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser are excellent in their respective roles as the federal prosecutor Peter Leaward and Hale’s attorney W.S. Hamilton with the former trying to get Hale convicted and bring justice for the Osage while the latter shows Fraser in this somewhat cartoonish yet chilling role as Hale’s attorney who tries to coerce Burkhart into defending his uncle. Tantoo Cardinal is brilliant as Mollie’s mother Lizzie Q. as this woman who becomes aware of what is happening as she senses death all around her while is having a spiritual connection with her ancestors as she knows that something isn’t right. Jesse Plemons is amazing as Thomas Bruce White Sr. as a FBI agent who leads the investigation into the Osage murders following Mollie’s visit to Washington D.C. as he is someone that is charming but also determined to get to the truth as he proves to be a formidable foe for Hale and Burkhart. Robert de Niro is sensational as William King Hale as a cattle ranch owner who acts as a friend and benefactor for the Osage when he’s really the devil in disguise. There is this sense of sliminess in de Niro’s performance as he displays a lot of charm and dark wit while is also manipulative in his actions as it is one of his finest performances.

Leonardo DiCaprio is phenomenal as Ernest Burkhart as a former World War I infantryman who moves to Fairfax to work for his uncle as he does his bidding including marrying Mollie in the hopes of getting her oil headrights only for things to get complicated. DiCaprio brings a gullible approach to his character who is willing to do things for his uncle while is also a total mess when he lies to Mollie where he later becomes filled with guilt and shame as he would also endure tragedy that would force him to make decisions for himself. Finally, there’s Lily Gladstone in a tremendous performance as Mollie as an Osage woman whose family owns oil headrights as she is charmed by Burkhart and would have a family with him while also becoming mysteriously ill. Gladstone brings a lot of layers into her performance as someone who knows a lot more than everyone realizes despite the tragedies she would endure as it only forces her to seek out the truth as it is a break-out performance for Gladstone.

Killers of the Flower Moon is a magnificent film from Martin Scorsese that features great performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert de Niro, and Lily Gladstone. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, a chilling music soundtrack from the late Robbie Robertson (whom the film is dedicated to), discomforting moments of violence and suspense, and a story of greed, deceit, death and corruption. The film is an unsettling yet confrontational film that takes a look into one of those most horrific atrocities in American history all in the name of greed. In the end, Killers of the Flower Moon is an outstanding film from Martin Scorsese.

Martin Scorsese Films: (Who’s That Knocking on My Door?) – (Street Scenes) – Boxcar Bertha - (Mean Streets) – Italianamerican - Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Taxi Driver - New York, New York - American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince - (The Last Waltz) – Raging Bull - The King of Comedy - After Hours - The Color of Money - The Last Temptation of Christ - New York Stories-Life Lessons - Goodfellas - Cape Fear (1991 film) - The Age of Innocence - (A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies) – (Casino) – (Kundun) – (My Voyage to Italy) – Bringing Out the Dead - (The Blues-Feel Like Going Home) – Gangs of New York - (The Aviator) – No Direction Home - The Departed Shine a Light - Shutter Island - (A Letter to Elia) – (Public Speaking) - George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Hugo - The Wolf of Wall Street - (The Fifty Year Argument) – The Silence (2016 film) - (Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese) – (The Irishman (2019 film)) – (An Afternoon with SCTV)

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