Killers Of The Flower Moon
Scorsese’s Best Film
Despite all the love and praise Martin Scorsese’s historical crime epic Killers Of The Flower Moon has received, it’s never going to be his most memorable film. Sadly, the world is simply TOO DIVIDED for that. To really engage with audiences on the importance of Flower Moon, you’ll have to engage on nearly everything else that’s happening at this time because somehow, all issues form a connection. Most people don’t want to do that because our divided nation frightens too many people away who feel discussions are no longer worth the aggravation which I agree with, I’m saddened to admit. I hope to be proven wrong and have my hope restored.
In the meantime, I’ll add that it’s not his most iconic film (Scorsese’s films often have a way of assessing their legacies immediately, Goodfellas, The Departed, etc.) and it’s certainly not his most entertaining film (Casino, The Wolf Of Wall Street). It is however despite all the “negative whining about runtimes” noise from social media vultures and scream-singing Swifties (I absolutely adore Taylor Swift and her music but her concert film released at the same time as Flower Moon really didn’t do Scorsese audiences any favors as the crucial quiet moments of Flower Moon had loud audiences next door blasting the music and disturbing the silence, way too many cinemas had this problem) his best film.
You read that right. Years in working, Scorsese’s Flower Moon is the best film he’s ever made. He made it perfect because he had years to make it perfect. Most importantly, without the help and support he received from the Osage community, it would never have happened. The brilliance of the script jumped off the pages and landed in front of the camera at just the right moments. Every aspect that goes into filmmaking was flawless under Scorsese’s dedication and vision.
Flower Moon revisits the monstrous genocide, members of the Osage community in Oklahoma faced during the 1920s. Under financial guardianship by the powerful white men who allowed the Osage to live among them, the Osage quickly became one of the wealthiest people in history after discovering oil on their land. Wealthy rancher William King Hale (Robert De Niro) is able to influence and convince the white men of his community to marry all the young and beautiful Osage women so that upon their deaths, their money will go to them, keeping them in financial power and standing. (It is the kind of middle American community where EVERYONE knows each other and is related by blood, one way or another). Marry, murder, money. That’s the pattern Hale sets in stone. He justifies it by insisting the Osage don’t live long and are dying out anyway and that they are in fact doing them a kindness by ending their “Sufferings”.
Hale oversees all of these marriages like clockwork and sees an opportunity in his young nephew Ernest (Leonardo Dicaprio) who’s just returning from being overseas in World War I. He persuades him to court Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman Hale’s known since she was a little girl. Courtship leads to marriage, marriage to children, and soon enough, the mass murder of Mollie's entire family, one by one. First, the elders, then her beloved sisters. Hale’s charismatic energy entwined with Ernest’s weaknesses makes him fully submissive to every insidious demand of his uncle. Of course, Ernest has a hungry thirst for wealth too but unlike his uncle, panics when caught in a lie and shows his nerves while Hale remains cool as a cucumber for the entirety of the film.
Even after he’s arrested and exposed, he sees a way out for himself. “They love me,” he says of the Osage. He bestowed gifts and donations upon them for years and built a reputation for himself as a “King”. No pun intended. He insists on being called by his middle name by everyone. De Niro made it quite clear at Cannes that his portrayal of Hale was based on former President Trump’s character. You can watch the Cannes press table interview on YouTube to hear his thoughts.
Hale is the one I most want to forget about but I can’t because De Niro’s performance was bombastically unexpected. The man has delivered great work for decades and just when you think he can’t get any more impressive, he delivers the performance of a lifetime. He’ll be doing what he does best all the way to his grave. Many have said Dicaprio gives the best performance of his entire career. They’re not wrong. He truly knows how to purge evil from his gut. The process in which he changes his face, mannerisms, and even the way he walks all points to someone completely outside of himself that he has to somehow morph into in time for the camera to settle upon him. Lily Gladstone is of course the heart of the film but also the grief and silent rage. She too is a chameleon actor and only the chameleons last in great art. All three actors can make whatever change the scene requires on a dime but to change slowly and showcase that uncomfortable process is what Scorsese was interested in and wanted to capture.
Gladstone dominated the fall indie season of 2016 with her equally miraculous work alongside Kristen Stewart in Certain Women in which she plays a lonely rancher who stumbles into a night class on educational law taught by Stewart who is struggling to pay her student loans and drives eight hours every week to teach the class and get back to her daytime internship. Gladstone and Stewart's weekly meetings together in a diner near the highway amongst the crisp frost of Montana winter nights served as a platform for Gladstone to build upon her character's loneliness and unrequited affections. Everything that’s not said is always found in the eyes and Gladstone conveys that same energy as Mollie which looks so effortless on her part.
As Mollie’s family keeps on perishing, her fears and unspoken suspicions escalate and Ernest soon drugs her under the guise of injecting “revolutionary” medicine to help with her diabetes which could not be treated in her 20s. Mollie’s moments of sickness are barbaric beasts of scenes to get through but you must always watch with focus on her, not your own discomfort.
Gladstone also has a particular way of walking as well. In the beginning, she doesn’t necessarily flaunt herself (Certainly not to the extent her closest sister Anna does) but she has a specific confidence about her. She carries herself the way you imagine a wealthy woman of her era would. In fact, my favorite scene is very early on when Mollie and her sisters are having a picnic. Traditional blankets are laid out, they’re dressed in fine clothing and jewelry, nibbling happily on tiny desserts and tribal teas, fanning themselves like “proper ladies out and about in high society” and giggling about their male courtings. There’s definitely a generational divide between the young Kyle women and their elders. Their elders are frightened that all their young family is marrying white men. Mollie loves her whole family but her elders' struggles to change with the times is what leaves Mollie feeling closer to her sisters, particularly Anna who is more outgoing than she is.
Long after tragedy strikes Mollie’s family, she doesn’t carry herself the same way anymore. She’s always wrapped up in blankets like a tiny burrito that knows it’s about to be eaten. She sweats profusely and by the time, an F.B.I agent (Jesse Plemons) is sent her way, she’s nearing death and has to be carried out of her home by multiple people to get to the hospital. Silent tears of surrender are shed, her last sister’s home is bombed in the night and her body is most likely torn to shreds from her pregnancies. Mollie knows deep down the worst and most unimaginable truth is the only truth and she’s powerless to stop it. That’s why the early scenes where she’s happy and thriving are so important so that audiences know this woman before she no longer knows herself.
Cara Jade Meyers is unforgettable as the rebellious Anna, Brendan Fraser makes a brief but incredible appearance as Hale’s corrupt attorney and Jason Isbell is quietly chilling as Mollie’s brother-in-law whose icy stare rattles Ernest. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is enthralling as the Osage bathe in celebration in the oil that rises like waves out of the ground when they discover it and the blood orange sky from the night fires illuminates the evil darkness that surrounds them all. The costume department and the Osage worked hand in hand so every stitch and thread was authentic and had a story to it.
Cinephiles should be excited that such a brilliant film exists at a time like this. I won’t blame anyone who prefers to watch from the comfort of Apple TV at night with the shades down and strong coffee to stay awake but I hope you do decide to see Flower Moon in theaters. It’s magic to be able to witness love on the silver screen and the love story of Flower Moon is NOT of Ernest and Mollie but Scorsese and the Osage. Their commitment can be found in every framing.
I can’t say the Flower Moon isn’t soul-destroying because it is. The world is unapologetically evil. Flower Moon has an ugly devastation to it that stabs you with a battle ax, tears open the wound with its bare hands, rips your heart out, and beats and rapes your soul before dousing it with gasoline and setting it on fire. The Osage suffered this extent of evil. It is the job of decent people to look at films like this with sharp focus and bury our discomfort. It’s not the moment to cry out in pain. We can do that after.
After we bear witness to evil as it happened and discuss the film passionately with those who appreciate it. Then and only then can you retreat to a quiet space, press a pillow against your face, and scream with despair. Hopelessness is perhaps the most relatable thing people have in common today. We don’t need to hide it but we save it for after we’ve given pieces of ourselves to the knowledge that such evil happens. Scorsese’s kindness and empathy will leave you with hope. Any sense of hope you can get from creators like him is something we all must hold on to tightly for dear life. We can’t make it to the light if we don’t face the darkness and we CAN make it to the light. We have to.
Flower Moon hopefully kickstarts a rebirth in cinema and in storytelling. There are unrecognized and disbelieved truths we know exist and we feel crazy because it often seems like we’re the only ones who know of it. Is it all in our heads? No, it’s not. It’s all real and only with the kind of empathy Scorsese used in making Flower Moon will people survive. Living in darkness is frightening but facing it could be liberating. Hopefully, we will face the darkness that’s coming, and we’ll face it together, and only then will the Mollies of the world finally be able to open their eyes and say: The nightmare’s over.
(2023). Killers of the Flower Moon: See all our coverage going back to when scenes were shot here to reaction to the movie. Retrieved November 8, 2023, from https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/tulsaworld.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/6/54/6542391a-6212-11ee-af6f-e32441d83769/651c51b0e396c.preview.png?crop=1196%2C628%2C1%2C0&resize=1196%2C628&order=crop%2Cresize.