When Martin Scorsese casts Leo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro in a drama, Oscars are actually just a formality.
Hard to believe, but true: An indigenous tribe that owned a lot of barren land in the Midwest was the richest people in the world in terms of per capita wealth in the early 1920s.
The “Water People,” called the “Osage” by the settlers, had become extremely rich almost overnight thanks to oil discoveries on their territory. Suddenly the small group of North American natives could afford cars and servants.
But their happiness was short-lived. Prosperity quickly attracted fraudsters who ran over corpses out of greed for money. The journalist David Grann put this real series of murders on paper and made it a bestseller in 2017. Martin Scorsese then secured the filming rights and converted the true crime story into a tragic love story.
Ernest gets serious and marries chubby Mollie
Unlike the 352-page non-fiction book, the 3 hour and 26 minute long drama does not focus on the investigations of the newly founded FBI.
Instead of letting the case be solved from the outside, Scorsese tries to shed light on the tragedy from the inside. The strangers in “Killers of the Flower Moon” are therefore the white people.
Motivated by his criminal uncle William Hale (Robert De Niro), Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) wraps Osage woman Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone) around his finger. It is only long after the marriage that Mollie realizes what a “handsome devil” her husband actually is.
True love, terrible betrayal
The precise portrayal of the complicated relationship between Mollie and Ernest is the heart of the film. According to Scorsese, this was entirely in the spirit of the direct descendants of the murdered Osage: “Don’t forget that Ernest and Molly really loved each other,” they repeatedly reminded the 80-year-old director.
To this day he still cannot fully understand how it was possible “that these two people trusted each other until the bitter end”. The close bond between the two was part of the tragedy because she ultimately relied on someone “who came from a culture that considered itself superior.”
DiCaprio plays this good-natured but easily manipulated oaf with a mix of sweaty charm and white self-importance that’s hard to forget. But it’s not him who delivers the strongest performance here, and certainly not Robert De Niro, who only manages to wring a few shades out of his dark role. Rather, it is newcomer Lily Gladstone, who as the stoic Mollie never sees herself as a victim and instead dominates the film with a proud attitude.
A delicacy that requires a lot of sitting
Scorsese’s latest epic is definitely worth seeing. And similar to his last film “The Irishman”, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is also crying out for the big screen. There are also at least two other parallels between the early works.
Firstly, both films were produced by streaming services: “The Irishman” by Netflix, “Killers of the Flower Moon” by Apple TV+. That means: Without the financially strong streamers, these pearls would not have been created at all. But also: The theatrical release window is short and primarily due to the Oscar guidelines.
Secondly, both epics require patience: “The Irishman” was only just under three and a half hours, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is only three minutes shorter.
Cinema release: October 19, 2023