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"Killers of the Flower Moon": A Movie Review

Updated: Feb 3


Blurb:  When oil is discovered in 1920s Oklahoma under Osage Nation land, the Osage people are murdered one by one - until the FBI steps in to unravel the mystery.

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio

Robert De Niro

Lily Gladstone

Jesse Plemons

Directed by:  Martin Scorsese

Written by:  Eric Roth and Martin Scorsese

Based on the non-fiction book Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann


We begin with a funeral of sorts as elders bury a smoking pipe, symbolizing the beginning of the end of their culture. Their children will be far more white than Osage, forgetting the Osage ways, when oil is discovered on their land, making them incredibly wealthy.


Enter Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio is terrific once again, why was he not nominated for Best Actor?) who has come home from war to live with his brother Byron and his Uncle William Hale on Hale's large reservation ranch.


Immediately I was struck by how gorgeous this movie is. I couldn't help but say, "Whoa!"


Earnest's uncle, who likes to be called "King" (in what I think is one of Rober DeNiro’s best roles) is the reserve's deputy sheriff. He tells Ernest that the Osage had the worst land possible, and then discovered oil. He says they are smart, and worked it so that they had to say on who got the oil, who got the rights. He claims the Osage are the most beautiful people on earth, but just because they're often quiet, doesn't mean you're not listening and the advises Ernest to be very careful of anything that he says.


Switch to a scene of an Osage man dying. He's not the first. A string of Osage people have died, and all with no investigation.


Ernst becomes a cab driver and his uncle encourages him to pursue Mollie Kyle, who is full blood estate. Which means she has money from the oil, and he should try to marry her, so he has access to that money.


Sadly, we soon find out that he, with a few other men, rob Osage people at night for their jewelry.


To Ernest's surprise, a romance does begin, started by Mollie. I fell in love with Mollie instantly. Clever, funny, sharp, she knows. Ernest wants money, but also wants to be settled, and she's very attracted to him.


Soon, they are married. And meanwhile, King plays the role of a man who loves the Osage people. But bit by bit, we begin to see another story. And therein lies the movie. The Osage people are dying, and often their oil rights go to a white person instead of an Osage family. They believe King is with them and for them. But he is not.


The movie takes far more twists than I ever suspected, and broke my heart more and more in the directions it took. The deck was totally stacked against the Osage.


Killers of the Flower Moon is a very long, very slow movie, beautifully filmed, brilliantly acted, and done in the typical Scorsese manner. Every detail possible, yet ending fast and furious. I truly wish that they had taken some of that time out of the first nine tenths of the movie, one of the long, long slow sections (a scene with Leonardo surveying the ruins of an explosion goes on forever, well-acted or not), and used that time to stretch out the ending a little bit more.


Ultimately, I can say that my life is not really enriched for having seen this movie, nor would I have really missed anything had I not. I would guess in two or three weeks I won't remember hardly anything about it except that it was gorgeous and wonderfully acted. It is certainly not my choice for best picture.


SPOILERS Thankfully, Mollie, dying, went to Washington and pleaded for help. That help came in the form of Federal investigators who saved her life from poisoning and got to the bottom of all the murders. Hale spent only twenty years in prison, and lived until he was 87 as a free man. Ernest spent ten years in prison. Mollie divorced Ernest and remarried, and died from diabetes ten years later.


I cannot decide if I'm satisfied with the end of the month or not. I believe that Ernest loved Mollie very much. But he also did some deplorable things. So why this movie Mr Scorsese? Why this tale of the Native American? Were there no others to choose from? I think there probably were.... I can also say that Leonardo probably made us feel a lot more sympathy for Ernest Burkhart than he deserved. So reading about the man revealed that after spending about a decade in prison, he was released, only to go back for “burglarizing his former sister-in-law's house! After being paroled for the final time in 1959, Burkhart was pardoned by Oklahoma governor Henry Bellmon in 1965 or 1966 for his role in the Osage murders.”  He probably shouldn’t have been.



Warning: The following is a complete synopsis of the movie. It's nothing but spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Osage Nation elders bury a ceremonial pipe, mourning their descendants' assimilation into White American society. Wandering through their Oklahoma reservation, during the annual "flower moon" phenomenon of fields of blooms, several Osage find oil gushing from the ground. The tribe becomes wealthy, as it retains mineral rights and members share in oil-lease revenues, though law requires white court-appointed legal guardians to manage the money of full and half-blood members, assuming them "incompetent".

In 1919, Ernest Burkhart returns from World War I to live with his brother Byron and uncle William King Hale on Hale's large reservation ranch. Hale, a reserve deputy sheriff and cattle rancher, poses as a friendly benefactor of the Osage, speaking their language and bestowing gifts. Ernest and Byron commit armed robbery against the Osage. Ernest meets Mollie Kyle, an Osage whose family owns oil headrights, via his day job as a cab driver. A romance develops, and the two marry in a ceremony mixing Roman Catholic and Osage traditions. Over time, they raise three children.

Hale secretly orders the contract killings of multiple wealthy Osage. He explains that Ernest will inherit more headrights if more of Mollie's family dies. Mollie is diabetic, and her mother Lizzie is ill. After Mollie's sister Minnie dies of a mysterious illness, Hale orders Byron to kill Mollie's other sister, the rebellious Anna. Lizzie and the Osage council blame the reservation's white residents and urge the tribe to fight back.

A newsreel of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, in which white people destroyed a black community and killed numerous residents, causes further concern amongst the Osage that they could suffer similarly. Lizzie sees her ancestors welcome her to the afterlife as she dies. Hale orders Ernest to arrange the murder of Henry Roan, Mollie's first husband. However, Ernest botches the assassination and Hale paddles him inside a Masonic Temple as punishment.

Since Hale is the local political boss, and both the local sheriff and judges are in his pocket, no investigations are made. An Osage Nation representative seeking to lobby Congress is murdered in Washington, D.C., while private detective William J. Burns, who was discreetly hired by Mollie, is attacked by Ernest and Byron, who run him off of the reservation.

Hale orders Ernest to murder Mollie's last surviving sister Reta and her husband Bill by having criminal Acie Kirby blow up their house. As the last surviving member of her family, Mollie inherits their headrights. Despite her illness, she travels to Washington with an Osage delegation and asks President Calvin Coolidge for help. Because of this, Hale orders Ernest to poison Mollie's insulin to "slow her down". Mollie's condition worsens, and Ernest exhibits similar symptoms after ingesting the poison himself.

Due to Mollie's lobbying, the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) sends Agent Thomas Bruce White Sr. and assistants to investigate; they quickly discover the truth. Hale tries to cover his tracks by murdering his own hitmen, including Acie, but White arrests Hale and Ernest. While Ernest is being interrogated, two agents are sent to question Mollie and find her near death. They rush her to the hospital where the doctors discover that she has been repeatedly poisoned and quickly notify White and the other agents. Mollie recovers under the care of the staff.

White persuades Ernest to confess and turn state's evidence against his uncle. W. S. Hamilton, Hale's attorney, tries to convince Ernest to claim he was tortured and recant. However, after one of his daughters dies of whooping cough, Ernest testifies against his uncle, wanting to be around for his remaining family. Hale unsuccessfully tries to have his nephew murdered. Mollie meets with Ernest after he testifies, and leaves him after he refuses to admit to poisoning her.

A radio drama years later reveals the aftermath: The Shoun brothers, who gave Ernest the poison for Mollie and were implicated in other "wasting deaths", were never prosecuted due to lack of evidence. Byron served no prison time due to a hung jury. Hale and Ernest were sentenced to life imprisonments. Both were paroled after years of incarceration, despite Osage protests to the parole board. Mollie divorced Ernest, married a man named John Cobb, and died of diabetes in 1937 at the age of 50. She was buried with her parents, sisters and daughter. Her obituary did not mention the Osage murders. The film closes with an overhead view of a 21st-century Osage powwow dancing circle.*


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