Power Is The Name Of The Game

Killers of the Flower Moon
Stars: Leonard DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Tantoo Cardinal, Jesse Plemons, Cara Jade Myers, Jason Isbell and Scott Shepherd
Director: Martin Scorsese
Scriptwriters: Martin Scorsese and Eric Roth based on the book “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann
Composer: Robbie Robertson
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto
Apple Studios/Paramount Pictures
Rating: R for violence and themed material
Running Length: 3 hours and 50 minutes

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is an exotic title for a book. However, these killers were on American soil and the subject of a 2017 book (non-fiction) by David Grann. It was a hit book and now progressing into the “hit film” stage as it opens around the country. Director Martin Scorsese (known especially for “Goodfellas”), now into his eighties, and with Eric Roth, adapted the book into a screenplay that runs four hours. No break here as in epics of the past such as “Ben-Hur." You sit all the way through. What is the subject that intrigues everyone so?  The systematic killing of Oklahoma’s Osage Indians to gain control of the oil found on their properties. In other words, greed is the name of the game, and it is brutal, indeed. The main characters are Robert De Niro and Leonardo Di Caprio, who have worked with Martin Scorsese before.  De Niro is William King Hale, who owns much land in Oklahoma and wants more in whatever way he can. Leonard Di Caprio as Hale’s nephew, who isn’t the brightest bulb in the box and does what he is told like a robot. Then there is Mollie, an Osage Indian woman and is played eloquently by Lily Gladstone, who becomes Leo’s wife and the word “love” is in question. Around these characters flows black gold and those eager for more of it, no matter what.

This is the 1920’s. The film opens with an Osage burial, then progresses to oil bubbling out of an opening on Osage land, and then into a new housing development, boom town, Osage living in wealth with white servants, chauffeurs, and so on. In the middle of this sits Hale, who plays himself as a friend to all, even learning the Osage language, helping them in any way he can—but always with another intent. His plans move into the next gear when nephew Ernest (Di Caprio) arrives after serving in WWI and not knowing what to do with himself. He is slow to grasp ideas, follows the leader and is thrilled when his uncle gives him a job, though here you can see that Ernest does like his liquor. In years to come, Ernest falls in love with Mollie, an Osage woman, and they have children. Mollie comes from a family of sisters and as they marry, their oil rights could go to their husbands, and also, the Osage are considered incompetent to handle their wealth, so white “managers” take over as trustees, doling out the money, bit by bit.  The ladies are dying young and the husbands end up with money. There is something called a “wasting disease” that is thought to be heredity, but really is something else. Also, there are suicides which are questionable.  As these things start to happen to Mollie’s family, she becomes suspicious, especially after her mother (Tantoo Cardinal) passes away. What to do? Hale is always there to help, Ernest is there to help, but still things happen. This was called “The Reign of Terror.”  During all of this, the audience can see what is going on behind the scenes and the intricate planning that Hale is doing to gain control of oil wealth. You can practically see oil gushers in his eyes as he speaks. Is anyone safe? It seems as though no-one will help the Osage people, even though Mollie goes to Washington, D.C. herself and speaks to the President. The Osage are considered too small a problem. A vast field of helplessness. In the 20th century.

Let’s begin with Rodrigo Prieto’s photography of an Oklahoma you didn’t know existed. Beautiful scenery caught at just the right moment. Good tracking shots through houses as actors move. Along with that is the music score by Robbie Robertson. The music catches moments at the right time with an ending you don’t expect. To pull all of this together is Martin Scorsese and this film begins to say “Oscar Time.” For example, to show Ernest’s intent, though he has a charming smile, he has bad teeth. Hale enters a room giving praise to everyone and directing the conversation toward what he has done, not what is happening. Mollie’s face is expressionless, but her eyes are pools of searching for a way out for her people. Small things like this add much to characterization. Tantoo Cardinal, as Mollie’s mother, has a special moment in the film and, as with Mollie, her eyes tell it all. Later on in the story, comes Jesse Plemons as Tom White, a federal investigator with an expressionless face, but once again, eyes that probe.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is a real-life expose’ of the early part of the 20th century and brings out to today’s public, what happened then. Oklahoma led with oil at that time, but there was much mystery and behind-the-scenes trickery that went along with it. The scenes, year-by-year are as though looking at chapters from a book or scenes from a stage play.  People age, clothing and hair styles change, as do cars, houses, and children grow up. Will anyone or anything stop this greed?  When something unexpected happens and the tables are turned, who are the good guys and who are the bad guys now? What an interesting story this is, and it is a true one.  The innocent, once again, were taken advantage of by greedy eyes.  Sit back and watch this part of American history unfold in front of you.

Copyright 2023 Marie Asner