Sitting in my Urban Native hummingbird hat and Pendleton t-shirt, I was ready to watch the film I had been anticipating for the past six years. The film I had been talking to all my friends and family in Indian Country about after reading the book by David Grann. I was hoping for the best movie of the year, and I wasn’t disappointed.
If you were expecting “Killers of the Flower Moon” to be a whodunit western, then buckle up for a different sort of rodeo for this Native American Heritage month. Much like the trailer where Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) asks, “Can you find the wolves in this picture?”, there is no big reveal to wait for — you know exactly who is behind everything. Instead, it is a matter of seeing how such an event could have taken place. What motivates people to do incredibly terrible acts? How does greed manipulate people? How far are people willing to go? What stories do people tell themselves so they can sleep at night? These are a few questions that the film pursues.
Martin Scorsese does a very good job setting the tone of the film. Before it even starts, I was welcomed with Scorsese thanking viewers for coming out, thanking the Osage for collaborating with him, and acknowledging the importance of the story.
I would be remiss not to mention that “Killers of the Flower Moon” hosts an incredible cast that features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it subtle acting performance. Ernest Burkhart is a morally gray protagonist who has an emotionally complex storyline where you can’t tell exactly where he stands, or what he’s going to do next, especially with his uncle William Hale (Robert De Niro) looming in the background. However, it is Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone) who you should keep your eye on. There are so many things that Gladstone offers us in only a short period of time. Anything from a glance, a pause or an adjustment of her colorful blanket communicates so much. You can almost hear what she’s thinking, and she steals any scene she’s in.
My favorite parts of the film were the inclusion of Indigenous culture and the Osage language that infrequently colored scenes. If you’re not familiar with the Osage, or any Native culture, that won’t stop you from enjoying it. There is some very speedy exposition done in the form of early 1900s hand crank filming. I did benefit from being familiar with Osage and Native culture, as it gave me more of the story to grip onto and fun moments where I could point out to my friend, who I was watching the film with, that the kids were playing stickball as a cultural game, and football because of the Boarding School Era. Overall, the barrier to entry is low. At certain points, you might get confused by terms like “headrights,” or “allotment,” but as Scorsese said best in an interview with Ti West, “Whatever it is, the bad guys want it. That’s all it is.”
Some of the most striking cinematic moments happen with the oil fields in the background — a reminder of what motivates the evil in the film. At certain times, this film can be hard to sit through because of just how casually the brutality is portrayed, although this is the point. “Killers of the Flower Moon” saves its more interesting shots for bigger plot moments, and while the subject matter isn’t inherently funny, the rare points of comedy come from the absurdity of whatever situation the characters are in, which helps to break up the duller moments and keep viewers engaged. At the beginning, it’s difficult to keep track of all the storylines that lead up to the major plot points, but once the film builds momentum, the three-hour runtime flies by quickly. Although this story isn’t the typical one you’d see in theaters, it’s worth the watch. And in case you were wondering: yes, Oklahoma really does look like that.