Killers of the Flower Moon review: A sordid tale of serial murders fuelled by racism in America…
What: In April flowers bloom like confetti all across the Black Hills… But as the author of the book Killers Of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI David Grann writes, “In May when the coyotes howl beneath an unnervingly large moon, taller plants, such as spiderworts and black-eyed Susans, begin to creep over the tinier blooms, stealing their light and water. The necks of the smaller flowers break and their petals flutter away, and before long they are buried underground. This is why the Osage Indians refer to May as the time of the flower-killing moon…’
Killers of the flower moon movie review
Martin Scorsese’s homage to the simplicity of the Osage people who were drenched in wealth by the discovery of oil on their reservation, and died for that black gold is an epic three and a half hours of film that never lets you breathe. There is this constant sense of unease and even when the hero tells the heroine that he loves her, you know and she knows that it’s not true.
A little history first: the native Americans were driven away from their lands by ‘white’ folk who established a government and brought their way of life to what is the United States. The Osage people were pushed from Missouri and Kansas and driven to the seemingly barren state called Oklahoma. But no one knew that the 2,229 members of the Osage tribe were now sitting on America’s largest oil fields. When they struck oil, these tribal folks became so rich that it was rumoured that if their cars got a flat tire, they did not repair the puncture, they just bought a new car.
The film shows how the Osage oil attracted the drillers, oil workers, men who wanted to buy that oil and steal the Osage wealth. The laws were created by the ‘white’ settlers, who deemed the Osage as ‘incompetent’ and unable to spend their own money! Each member of the tribe had to have a ‘white’ protector who disbursed their funds to the tribes. Obviously, the tribe members were being cheated.
Robert De Niro plays a cattleman William Hale, who pretends to be a friend of the Osage on the outside, but inside he has a black heart. His racism can be barely concealed as he plans and carries out murders of the Osage people one by one.
The Osage who lived simply in nature, farming and hunting for a living are now attracted to jewellery, cars and mansions and yes, alcohol. The ‘white’ folk take advantage of that, and as the film progresses, you can't help but be horrified at the callousness of the murders. The plan is so simple, so evil, you will feel a sense of doom. We are looking at the life of Anna (Cara Jade Myers), an independently rich, spunky Osage woman who loves partying and the good life. Her mother Lizzie (Tantoo Cardinal) warns her against going out so much, because they’ve just seen the death of a daughter of the house Minnie (Jillian Dion) who just wasted away… But headstrong Anna won’t listen and is soon missing.
Other Osage oil rich men seem to be getting murdered too… And amid this chaos, Lizzie’s daughter and Anna’s sister Mollie (Lily Gladstone ) falls in love with Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), the sweet-talking nephew of William Hale (Robert De Niro) who prefers to be called ‘King of the Hill’. Mollie and Ernest get married. Mollie is told by the local doctor that she needs a brand-new medicine called ‘insulin’ that’s very expensive because she’s eating sweets that the white man eats.
William Hale has kindly agreed to paying for the medicine. Ernest and Mollie are grateful, but Mollie keeps getting sicker instead of getting better.
Are the doctors on the payroll of Willaim Hale, her husband’s uncle and benefactor, and is her husband Ernest poisoning her? Why are so many Osage people getting murdered? Mollie and a few tribal elders go to Washington DC and petition the president to help them. William Hale and the other ‘white’ men are angry. But then Mollie’s petition works and J Edgar Hoover (yes, the lawman who created and became infamous head of the FBI) sends an investigator (who comes with a secret undercover team) to figure out what is really going on in Osage country.
Fans of murder mysteries would have loved to see more of quiet and effective investigation but that would have meant a longer film. The quiet Tom White and his agents try to meet Mollie but Ernest (who has been slowly poisoning his wife) prevents them. But Mollie is rescued after Ernest is handcuffed and taken away for questioning and this time sent to a proper hospital. The wily William Hale tries all kinds of tricks (never before has Robert De Niro seemed more menacing while smiling). So awesome is the film that the role of William Hale’s lawyer W. S Hamilton who has barely two lines in two scenes, is played by the Oscar winning actor Brendan Fraser and the prosecutor Peter Leaward - who also has a couple of scenes and a few more lines - is played by the incredible actor John Lithgow. Speaking of actors, Lily Gladstone who plays Mollie Burkhart is so amazing, she lights up the otherwise dark film, even though she’s being slowly poisoned. But her simpleton husband who gets coerced into doing evil things - Ernest Burkhart - is played by none other than Leonardo Di Caprio, who gives an Oscar and other awards worthy performance.
You will be at once horrified at how casually the racism translates into dehumanising the Native Americans as just and yet you will not be able to avert your eyes from the story unfolding in front of your eyes. The film is relevant to us because we too have pushed the tribals to dedicated corners of our country and push our way of life on to them. The satire Newton comes to mind, but this film chronicles a part of the bloody history of the Native Americans.
You will fall in love with the colour palette of the film and the ominous sound used brilliantly will stay with you long after you have left the theatre. Scorsese fans will give the film a ten on ten!