Oscar 2024: All Hail Robert De Niro, Killers of the Flower Moon’s Frumpy Evil Grandpa

Two-time Oscar winner De Niro has been nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category. This is his eighth Oscar nomination.
Oscar 2024: All Hail Robert De Niro, Killers of the Flower Moon’s Frumpy Evil Grandpa
Oscar 2024: All Hail Robert De Niro, Killers of the Flower Moon’s Frumpy Evil Grandpa

The weight of director Martin Scorsese’s monumental work, Killers of the Flower Moon, is arguably shouldered by three characters of whom one is the linchpin: Criminal mastermind William Hale, who dubbed himself the “King of the Osage Hills”. Brought to life on screen by Robert De Niro — a long-time collaborator of Scorsese’s, who seems to relish De Niro’s ability to embody evil — William Hale is one of the most chilling, malevolent and unapologetic villains you’ll ever encounter. 

From the very beginning, William (or King as he is called) seems to be an uneasy fit. Even if you don’t know the blood-soaked history of how the Osage were killed for access to the oil-rich lands in their territory, there’s something curious about King, one of the few white men who seems to be on good terms with the Osage. He appears initially as an affable grandpa figure, someone who has established a rapport with the Native people and goes so far as to express admiration for them — only for audiences to later realise that the seemingly casual banter is laced with something insidiously poisonous. As he brings Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) into his fold, King’s sinister plot is unveiled: Get white men to court and marry Osage women so that they become legal next of kin before murdering the women. King is the one who points Mollie (Lily Gladstone) out to Ernest, setting off the chain of events that lead to the terrible tragedies at the heart of Killers of the Flower Moon

Robert De Niro's masterful portrayal, with his signature frown and his ageing body held together by a steely confidence, makes King terrifying for his capacity for deceit and savagery. Although the full extent of his involvement in the crimes against the Osage people will take time to be revealed, from his early scenes in the first 20 minutes of the film, Scorsese and De Niro adeptly hint at him nursing a sinister secret. 

As King, De Niro's portrayal of malicious intent evolves methodically. He slowly brews his character and with time, it becomes intense, dark, and potent. De Niro has a long history of portraying antagonists in Scorcese films and William Hale is in the running to be the most morally repugnant and Machiavellian of them all. Upon a second (or closer) viewing, the nuances in De Niro's performance glint more sharply — the way he exchanges glances with Byron (Scott Shepherd) at the table; the smug smile he wears when welcoming Ernest on the farm; the vicious enjoyment he takes at punishing Ernest; the menacing stillness in the few scenes he has with Mollie. De Niro's performance unfurls gradually, paralysing the heart with its quiet evil.

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