KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON – Review by Susan Granger

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Master storyteller Martin Scorsese’s harrowing epic Killers of the Flower Moon relates an American true-crime drama, set in the 1920s.

Adapted from David Grann’s nonfiction 2017 best seller, the ambitious, solidly structured screenplay by Eric Roth and Scorsese focuses on the ruthless murders of members of the Osage Nation whom the U.S. government forced out of Kansas to relocate on 2,300 acres if barren land in what is now Oklahoma.

Until the 1890s, no one realized that the ‘barren land’ was teeming with oil, making the Indigenous people wildly wealthy. According to records, the tribe took in more than $30 million, the equivalent of more than $400 million today. They had more money per capita than any other populace in the United States.

When Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a W.W.I Army veteran, disembarks from a train in the Osage boomtown of Fairfax, he sees oil derricks everywhere, pumping ‘black gold.’ Local men are driving Pierce Arrows and riches abound.

Gullible Ernest – with his admitted weakness for women – has come to live with his conniving, cattle rancher uncle, William ‘King’ Hale (Robert DeNiro), who has ingratiated himself with the Osage and fluently speaks their language.

Lizzie Kyle (Tantoo Cardinal) is an elderly Osage widow with four daughters: Mollie (Lily Gladstone), Minnie (Jillian Dion), Rita (Janae Collins) and Anna (Cara Jade Myers). Soon, susceptible Ernest woos and weds wary, dignified Mollie (who is diabetic, requiring insulin injections) and he sires her children.

Each Osage woman has ‘headrights,’ meaning a share in the tribe’s Mineral Trust; when she dies, her rights pass to her next of kin – like her grieving white husband.

By 1925, a stealthy, systematic “culture of killing” has developed, attracting the attention of President Calvin Coolidge and the F.B.I.’s J. Edgar Hoover, who dispatches former Texas Ranger Tom White (Jesse Plemons) from Washington, D.C. to investigate the ugly, unsavory exploitation and sordid, sinister genocide.

Then in the early 1930s, Hoover gave a radio show permission to do a dramatic broadcast about how his fledgling crime fighter solved the tragic Osage murders, making Tom White the first G-man to garner nationwide publicity.

When DiCaprio optioned Grann’s book, he was set to play White. But after an early ‘table read’ and resolution to rewrite the script from a different perspective, he decided to play deluded Ernest Burkhart instead.

Credit Martin Scorsese, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, production designer Jack Fisk, and costumer Jacqueline West for immersing audiences in authentic Osage traditions, vivid pageantry and spiritual tribal customs. The $200 million budget is up there on the screen, culminating with Ilonshka dances and drumming.

As an inevitable 2024 Oscar contender, look for nominations for Scorsese, DiCaprio, De Niro and transcendent newcomer Lily Gladstone, who is of Blackfeet and Nimiipuu heritage.

My primary reservation centers on the sprawling film’s three-hour-26-minute length. Granted – Scorsese has a compelling, multi-faceted tale to tell – but there should have been an intermission.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Killers of the Flower Moon is a nefarious 9, now playing in theaters; it will eventually stream on Apple TV+.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.