An unsettling masterpiece
Review: Killers of the Flower Moon
Based on the David Grann novel of the same name, Killers of the Flower Moon is a film that explores the exploitation and murder of indigenous Americans. Set in 1920s Oklahoma, the film sets around a plot to defraud the Osage Nation, which has come into wealth after oil was discovered on their land.
Leonardo Di Caprio plays Ernest Burkhart, a former soldier who returns from World War One to live with his uncle, finding himself enmeshed in a life of crime in the process.
Robert De Niro plays William King Hale, a political boss and crime figure who has a close relationship with Osage people, but plots to take their wealth for himself, working to kill many of their wealthy. De Niro’s portrayal is one of such charisma that it is easy enough for the audience to see why Earnest goes along with his uncle’s plans and has such difficulty breaking away from him.
Some viewers have complained that the film features a white man as the protagonist, but this is to misunderstand Scorsese’s intent behind the character. Rather than being any kind of hero, Di Caprio portrays someone complicit in the murder of a large group of First Nations people. If the audience identifies with him, even briefly, we find ourselves complicit in his actions. While the film does not have a clear dénouement, it is clear enough that the veteran director is making a statement that people who pay to see this film as a piece of entertainment are complicit in the events it depicts.
Scorsese has said that he changed Killers of the Flower Moon’s script having consulted some Osage people, and it is clear from the final film that the story is intended to provoke a response from viewers. As David Grann observed, “I think he wanted to show how history gets told or mistold, how it kind of radiates out into culture and then … can be warped.”
Religion underpins much of the film, with the church serving as a central location for many of the film’s key events. Despite the characters quoting scripture, however, none of their faith prompts them to reconsider their actions against people made in the image of God.
Like many of Scorsese’s films, Killers of The Flower Moon is violent and is not recommended to anyone who is squeamish. At a little under three and a half hours, it is also a long film (although Insights did not notice the running time or feel like it stretched). With every shot brilliantly composed and none of its runtime wasted, it is a film that viewers will not forget quickly, and one that will leave them with much to think about.
Killers of the Flower Moon is currently playing in theatres. It will stream on Apple TV+ at a later date.