Killers of the Flower Moon is the most powerful film of the year, hands down. Unfortunately, it tells the story of an atrocity so beautifully that you’ll have to remind yourself that it’s not fictional. White terrorism takes center stage in this epic, cinematic masterpiece and you’d be hard-pressed to find a tragedy told more exquisitely.
After oil was discovered on the Osage Indian Reservation, the Osage Nation became the richest people on the planet. Sadly, that would be the beginning of the birth pains for their tribe, as white men soon invaded their space by the thousands. Henceforth, if you’re triggered by violence and abuse rooted in racism then this film as well as the review may not be for you.
You’re going to hear a swath of terms and phrases that may be triggering; some even foreign to your ears. At the beginning of this 206-minute behemoth, a voice will grab your attention to set the stage for your forthcoming experience. He will speak of unimaginable scenarios like indigenous people enjoying the wealth that their land has brought them while white men appeared in dire need of work. You’ll hear terms like “Five Civilized Tribes” to describe the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (now called Muscogee), and Seminole Nations because white men approved of their surrender to American culture. You’ll gain an expert-like familiarity with the word “headrights” and quickly learn how the vultures that enveloped that town would stop at nothing to acquire them. The very sight of brown people driving automobiles and sporting fur coats in the 1920s while white men “appeared” downtrodden and destitute is almost unimaginable, but the film is unabashed in its transparency. Scorsese had the courage to tell a story that needed telling and that will more than likely see him well-decorated once awards season concludes.
Land, since our nation’s beginning, has always been the most valuable asset one could possess. So it shouldn’t be surprising that when colonizers came to “discover” a land mass that was already inhabited three centuries ago, they immediately got to work on repossession. “The Invasion of America” by Claudio Saunt, is a well-written piece explaining this very process. He created a timelapse video (seen below) that shows just how much land was seized since 1776.
While the above often occurred via unenforced treaties, the terrorizing of Black or Indigenous People Of Color (BIPOC) in an effort to forfeit, sell, or seize their land continues to this very day. Silver Dollar Road is a documentary premiering on Prime Video this Friday about a Black family in North Carolina whose land was stolen from them. Bruce’s Beach in Southern California was stolen from the Bruce family simply because they were Black. It took nearly 100 years for California to right its racist wrong (2021) but the family was able to sell the property back to Los Angeles County for $20 million. Nowadays, the passive-aggressive (and sometimes just aggressive) means of doing so are usually done under the guise of gentrification.
William Hale (Robert De Niro), the local sheriff, was the mastermind behind a lengthy plot to slither his way into a fortune. But in order to exact a con that would span years, he needed the help of his clueless nephew Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio). Hale kept to himself on his own piece of land and befriended the Osage for two decades, even going as far as learning their native tongue. But not everybody found confidence in this “sheriff” who was responsible for the safety of their town. Mollie (Lily Gladstone) was one of those skeptics, as she took note of copious murders that went unsolved. Back then, the best chance you had at acquiring headrights (there goes that word again) was intermarrying. Nobody was cognizant of this more than Mollie, whose wealth was so vast that she was one of four people in the U.S. at the time to acquire insulin.
There were subtle reminders to keep you focused on the setting: A brief mention of, followed by a sighting of the KKK, a very casual back-and-forth about the race riots in Tulsa (this took place in 1921), and the grim looks of terror if anyone were to fall ill. To that effect, cinematography and production design are just a few categories where I believe Scorsese’s team will shine bright come awards season.
The masses will rave about DiCaprio, but, I feel it will be for his namesake only. Aside from De Niro’s sly portrayal of William Hale, the real star is Lily Gladstone. Love, anger, and distrust are just a few of the emotions she had to wear over the course of three and a half hours of cinema. Speaking of which, cinephiles should know that there’s enough to soak in and learn that boredom can be avoided. Unfortunately, if there’s anywhere to critique the legendary director, it will be the film’s runtime. Sadly, the same story could’ve been told in under three hours. There were parts of the film that were unnecessary and were obviously added for the sake of the big screen. If those scenes were removed as well as some choice, elongated discussions, he could’ve wrapped things up at around two hours and fifty minutes.
With all that said, Killers of the Flower Moon deserves a 9.5 out of 10. The acting, costumes, and direction were exquisite. This is a big win for history and an even bigger win for Apple TV+. If they continue to build their platform with choice, quality content, then they’ll find themselves on top of the streaming wars. If we don’t remember our history then we’re doomed to repeat it. This story is one that continues to plague minority groups in America to this day, and hopefully, through education, the country can learn from past mistakes and leave something greater for our youth to build on.
Killers of the Flower Moon will premiere on Friday, October 20 in theaters.
Photos: Courtesy of Apple TV+