Killers of the Flower Moon is a superbly performed descent into a nightmarish chapter in the history of American capitalism. Based on David Grann’s true-crime bestseller of the same name, the film is about a brazen and audacious conspiracy by opportunistic White people to rob and murder the Osage people.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart, a World War 1 veteran who comes to Fairfax, where his uncle William ‘King’ Hale, a well-connected cattleman played by Robert De Niro, runs the town. King encourages Ernest to marry Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman whose family is dying out at an alarming rate. Ernest stands to gain from these deaths.
In the book, Grann tells this story as a criminal investigation. But Martin Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth rework the material from the criminals’ perspective. The film also shows us how the system is stacked against the Osage. There is a blatantly racist guardianship scheme which certifies the Natives incompetent and white men are assigned to administer their trust funds.
The heart of this story is the love story between Ernest and Mollie. DiCaprio, wearing false teeth, delivers a career-defining performance as the scumbag Ernest. And Gladstone radiates intelligence and quiet strength as Mollie. Her eyes betray how much she truly understands her limited circumstances.
Killers of the Flower Moon has stunning visuals and passages of poetry – there is a jaw-dropping sequence in which a farm is set on fire. This film is a study of America’s toxic past, systemic racism and murder-fueled capitalism but it is also a moving portrait of a marriage which poisons, literally.