By Bob Grimm
The true story of the 1920s Osage Nation Indian murders gets a sweeping, epic and appropriately dark treatment from director Martin Scorsese—at the top of his game at 80 years old—with Killers of the Flower Moon.
The film pairs two of Scorsese’s go-to acting giants—Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio—for the first time in one of his films. The nearly 3 1/2-hour masterpiece never lags—and feels like it could’ve been twice as long, with no problem other than bladders bursting in the movie theater. This is not a film during which you will want to take any bathroom breaks.
Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) returns to Oklahoma after serving in World War I and immediately finds himself working for William Hale (De Niro) on land owned by the Osage Nation. The area is coveted for its oil, which has made many of the Osage rich.
The true events covered in the film are horrifying. Over a period of years, Osage people mysteriously disappeared or were outright murdered, with little to no investigation into the crimes—that is, until J. Edgar Hoover and his newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation sent some agents (one of them personified here by an excellent Jesse Plemons) on their first large-scale case. While the culprits were eventually revealed and put on trial, more than 60 (and possibly many more) Osage were killed.
Using David Grann’s nonfiction novel of the same name as the basis for his film, Scorsese and team tell the story in a surprising way—one that works as both a grim essay on a disgusting passage in American history, and a stunning mystery. Even if you manage to identify all of the perpetrators before the final revelations, the true depth of their evil deeds will knock you sideways.
This is one of Scorsese’s gloomier, darker pictures—but it’s anything but unwatchable. In many ways, it’s one of the more beautiful films he’s ever made, a true big-screen experience that puts that other 2023 gigantic historical drama, Oppenheimer, to shame. Where Oppenheimer felt padded and bloated at times, Scorsese’s effort is a well-oiled, masterful machine featuring awards-worthy performances across the board.