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Tuesday 26 December 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon, Film (USA 2023), written by Eric Roth and director Martin Scorsese, 9.5* out of 10

Killers of the Flower Moon (to be seen on Apple+ or at a cinema near you) is a classic Martin Scorsese epic in an unusual Mid-Western setting with outstanding performances from veteran actors Leonardo di Caprio and Robert de Niro as well as from newcomer Lily Gladstone. One of the best films of 2023 and a must-see.

Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo di Caprio) returns to the United States after serving as a cook in the US Army in Europe during World War I. He turns up asking for a job at the cattle ranch of his uncle William "King" Hale (Robert de Niro) in Osage County, Oklahoma, where his brother Byron Burkhart (Scott Shephard) also works. Hale is the centre of the local community. A deputy sheriff and a long-time friend, benefactor, and advisor highly respectful of the Osage Indians living on their reservation. He speaks their language fluently, is respectful of their culture and a staunch friend to their leaders. Or so, at least, it seems.

Many of the Osage Indians have become rich as the Federal Government has given them ownership of the petrol below their grounds. Any extraction of oil by novice adventurers or canny oil barons can only proceed if "headrights" are paid to the Indian owners of the ground above. The Osage are torn between their valued age-old traditions and the trappings of their new riches: automobiles, fashionable Western clothes and, of course, alcohol and other drugs.

Among the Osage is Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone) who lives with her mother and her sisters. Like all the other Osage, they are considered by law incompetent to handle their own riches and have a white local guardian appointed for this purpose. She has to go and see their guardian regularly to obtain spending money.

 Hale suggests to Ernest, who has taken a job as a driver by day with a side-line of gang robbery by night, to take Mollie as his wife. After a brief romance, Ernest and Mollie get married in an Indian-Catholic ceremony and start a family. But a mix of oil, money, greed, envy, and racism ensures that Ernest, Mollie, and their children and, with them, many members of the Osage nation will not live happily ever after.

Killers of the Flower Moon touches on many subjects of burning actuality: deception, greed, money and political power, identity, spirituality, respect for nature, identity, and supremacist ideas. It also reminds us of an important historical period in the History of the United States when the Federal Government recognized its duty to investigate crimes that would be covered up and whitewashed if left to each state. Uncovering the crimes against the Osage led to the creation of a fully-fledged Federal Bureau of Investigation under J. Edgar Hoover's leadership.

Director and co-writer Martin Scorsese brings this epic tale of the American West, based on true events to life by eliciting outstanding performances from veteran character actors di Caprio and de Niro as well as from newcomer Gladstone. Each one of their characters is well written and manages to be both highly contradictory to the point of paradox and utterly believable at the same time.  None more so than di Caprio as Ernest Burkhart, who is immensely greedy, highly reckless, somewhat dumb, yet loving, complex and deep. With their help, Scorsese tells an epic tale in his inimitable style. Understated, quiet, slow, yet constantly threatening dialogue is punctuated by short sharp bursts of appropriately brutal violence. 

Familiar and surprising at once, the result is in the best Scorsese tradition and beyond. It is one of the best films of 2023 and a must-see.  

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