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Killers of the Flower Moon

Martin Scorsese displays a social panorama of Osage County at the beginning of the 20th century, when white “soldiers of fortune“ did everything they could to exploit the Osage, who owned the land and the oil in it, and didn‘t shy away from ...

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The Osage Nation, who were originally located in Missouri, were driven out and settled in the “Indian Territories” of Oklahoma. The Osage bought the grazing land which they lived in, and when big oil deposits were discovered under the prairie in 1894, the Osage people became the richest First Nations tribe. The “Osage Indian Murders” occurred between 1918 and 1931. At least 60 Osage people were murdered, almost always with the goal of getting their money.

In KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, Martin Scorsese unfurls a social panorama of Osage County at the beginning of the 20th century. The core of the story largely corresponds to historical facts. The film begins with original photographs of Osage in the early 20th century. Along with photos of expensive cars, what attracts attention is the elegant, elaborately woven traditional clothing. It quickly becomes clear that the Osage developed a fashion style based on their own traditions. The historical photographs are mixed with photos of the cast in the same look and finally a scene at a station where the Osage and white fortune seekers arrive.

The scene becomes colorful and focuses on Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ex soldier who is looking to contact his uncle, rancher William Hale (Robert De Niro). Hale is an imposing figure, a rich farmer who gives his nephew a book about Osage culture, speaks fluent Osage, and claims to respect the tribe for being intelligent and cultivated. Hale nevertheless gives Ernest the advice to marry an Osage woman because the claims to oil profits, divided according to parcels, can be inherited by white Americans. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Ernest with an ever- deepening furrow, a protruding chin and low-hanging mouth corners. Burkhart gets by with committing robberies and doing odds jobs until he meets Mollie Brown – played by Lily Gladstone (CERTAIN WOMEN) with wit, charm, elegance and (later) honest shock. Mollie takes care of her sick mother and is awaiting a large inheritance. The money, however, is being managed by a white guardian, and the Osage family must account for every expenditure - a measure by the US government that had the Osage money often managed by corrupt trustees.

Scorsese said in a Variety interview that the film’s first draft, the focus was on the murder investigation by the newly founded FBI and agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons). Instead, Mollie Brown, Ernest Burkhard and William Hale became the main protagonists, shifting the focus from the “white saviors” of the actual scandal, giving Scorsese the opportunity to show several extraordinary characters. Mollie Brown knows that Ernest wants her money and brings it up in a very funny scene in which she gossips about men. But she just finds the guy cute. Ernest is convinced that he really loves Mollie, and a scene in which they get closer at dinner makes it clear that this isn’t a lie. Mollie is cool, amused, ironic, and decisive. After marrying Molly, Ernest has enough money to lead a very comfortable life without working, but he is still influenced by his uncle and commits crimes. Mollie sees and feels that she’s in danger, but she can’t decide whether to believe in it. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is about people who could know better, but who don’t succeed in acting on their rightly observed convictions. Scorsese succeeds in brilliantly portraying the complexity of stupidity and brutality. His characters are simultaneously simple and frustratingly contradictory, without seeming very torn.

Racism is commonplace in KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, but the overt racism is directed towards Blacks, not against the Osage. This is discussed behind closed doors: a child from a marriage between an Osage woman and a white man is lighter skinned, it’s a shame that the other one looks so Indian. At the same time, the Ku Klux Klan marches on the main street and is enthusiastically greeted by whites and silently observed by the Osage. The charismatic William Hale speaks the Osage language and presents himself as a partner and friend of the Osage, and he probably feels a certain respect towards them, but he also has no problem with endangering his friends and partners when it benefits him.

Scorsese is still a grand master of staging group scenes, his excessive tracking shots and the choreography of the large ensemble in a scene are stunning as always. Soundtrack composer Robbie Roberston, the guitarist and songwriter of “The Band” who died this August, comes from a Mowak and Cayuga family and focused on traditional and modern-day indigenous American music in recent years. His soundtrack contains these elements, what’s especially striking are the pre-war blues classics which Robertson uses at the turning points of the narrative: Henry Thomas’ optimistic “Bull Doze Blues” (1928, better known as “Going Up the Country” in the cover version of blues archivists Canned Heat) opens the film, Blind Willie Johnson’s slide guitar masterpiece “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” (1927), the almost wordless, saddest blues/gospel piece of all time, can be heard at the height of tragedy, Lily Gladstone’s Oscar nomination for best actress is almost a sure bet, Robbie Robertson can only be honored posthumously.

Tom Dorow (INDIEKINO MAGAZIN)

Translation: Elinor Lewy

Credits

Original title: Killers of the Flower Moon
USA 2023, 206 min
Genre: Drama, Crime Drama, Historical Film
Director: Martin Scorsese
Author: Eric Roth, Martin Scorsese
DOP: Rodrigo Prieto
Montage: Thelma Schoonmaker
Music: Robbie Robertson
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Jesse Plemons, Brendan Fraser, Lily Gladstone, John Lithgow, Tantoo Cardinal, Cara Jade Myers, Janae Collins
Release: 19.10.2023

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Screenings

  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles
English/with English subtitles
All languages

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