KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON presents an inside look at the conspiracy responsible for the infamous Osage Indian murders in 1920s Oklahoma. Led by a powerful insurance agent, a gang of white men murder dozens of Osage Indians to acquire the oil rights to their land. This booming industry made the Indians simultaneously the wealthiest and most murdered population group per capita in the world. Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro star as a nephew and uncle who craft a scheme to acquire 13 individual oil rights, which would bring them in millions of dollars per year in today’s money.
In KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, Director Martin Scorsese focuses on the least interesting elements of what could have been an innovative drama. The FBI agent who broke the
case doesn’t come into the story until two-thirds into the movie, which lasts more than three hours. The moral content in KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON leaves much to be desired. There’s strong foul language, extreme violence and a lack of redemptive values or good role models to contrast the greedy, vicious criminal protagonists.
(B, P, C, LL, VVV, S, AA, D, MMM)
Dominant Worldview and Other Worldview Content/Elements:
Light moral worldview in a stark cautionary tale about the dangers of being consumed by greed, where the main characters commit terrible acts of violence in order to increase their wealth, and their lives are ruined for it (although these sins are rebuked, there is no redemptive message and, even though the criminals are brought to justice, they are still greedy and selfish at the end of the movie, plus there are some superficial references to Christian Catholicism, practiced nominally by many characters
18 obscenities (including three “f” words) and three profanities
Very strong violence includes several scenes of fisticuffs, dead bodies shown in various states of damage or decay, man is shown frothing at the mouth while dying of poisoning, numerous characters are murdered with guns, verbal references to suicide, verbal reference to dead infants being trampled on by horses, doctor saws the skull of a dead body open for an autopsy, man is stabbed to death, man strikes another man on the rear end with a heavy board, two scenes of men being beaten to death, a bloody severed hand is shown on the ground, a dead woman’s brain falls out of a hole in the back of her head
A verbal reference to sexual promiscuity, man tries to touch a girl inappropriately, vague verbal reference to adultery, married couple is implied to have sex
Characters habitually drink alcohol, usually whiskey/moonshine, the main character is an alcoholic
Smoking and/or Drug Use and Abuse:
Characters smoke cigarettes, but there are no drug references or abuse;
Very strong miscellaneous immorality includes a man marries a woman for profit to inherit her oil rights, characters rob drivers on the highway, gambling, greed and obsessive love of money pervade the story, some racism is expressed toward Native Americans, the word “Jew” is used as an insult, a character is a high-ranking Freemason, and two main characters commit insurance fraud, but are caught.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON presents an inside look at the conspiracy responsible for the infamous Osage Indian murders in 1920s Oklahoma. Led by a powerful insurance agent, a gang of white men murder dozens of Osage Indians to acquire the oil rights to their land. The booming oil industry in Oklahoma made the Osage Indians simultaneously the wealthiest and most murdered population group per capita in the world. Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, both Scorsese regulars, star as Ernest Burkhart and William Hale, a nephew and uncle who craft a scheme to acquire no fewer than 13 individual oil rights, which collectively would bring them millions of dollars per year in today’s money.
To set the plan in motion, Burkhart marries into the Kile family, made up of matriarch Lizzie Q (who had three headrights due to her late husband’s previous marriage), and her four daughters. Each daughter has their own oil right, in addition to six others owned by one daughter’s husband, Bill Smith.
After Burkhart marries Mollie Kile, he and Hale begin systematically murdering Mollie’s relatives, including her sisters, to consolidate the family’s oil rights solely onto Mollie’s shoulders. After Mollie gets all the oil rights, point Hale (without Burkhart’s knowledge) can poison the already-sickly Mollie and ensure that all 13 oil rights pass onto Burkhart as her widower. The plan mostly succeeds, although the conspirators lose out on Bill Smith’s oil rights because, through a quirk of fate, he survives their murder attempt long enough for the rights to pass onto his adult daughter from a prior marriage, who lives in Arkansas, which is out of Hale and Burkhart’s reach.
Nevertheless, the criminal masterminds become incredibly wealthy, until the fledgling Bureau of Investigation (soon to have “Federal” tacked onto the front of its name) sends Special Agent Tom White to investigate the murder epidemic. [SPOILERS FOLLOW] Eventually, Hale and Burkhart are brought to justice, as are their henchmen, and the movie’s epilogue reveals that they both later died alone and, in Burkhart’s case at least, completely destitute.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is about the wrong thing. This is primarily because it is one of the only things Martin Scorsese makes movies about: the corruptive power of greed, and the vice’s inevitable ruin of the life of anyone who worships it. CASINO, GOODFELLOWS, THE DEPARTED, THE IRISHMAN, and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET all explore this theme. This formula has made Scorsese one of the most acclaimed directors who has ever lived, and he has deviated from it on occasion. However, Scorsese keeps returning to this primary thesis, which, in the case of this movie, is to its detriment.
The reason for that is that KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON almost completely misses the most captivating aspect of the story of the Osage Indian murders, which is not the life of its chief perpetrators. The more fascinating aspects of the story are the incomprehensible, racially motivated failure of the American legal system to adequately respond to the horrifyingly frequent killings for several years after they first began, followed by the historic impact that the Bureau of Investigation’s solving of these crimes had on that same system. After all, the young J. Edgar Hoover, whose achievements were yet to come, owed practically his whole career to the Bureau’s investigation of the Osage Indian murders. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON should not have been another Scorsese crime flick. It should have been a tense legal drama and an origin story for one of the most important law enforcement bodies in history.
Tom White, Jesse Plemons’ Texas-Ranger-turned-federal-investigator, was actually an excellent choice for a primary character in the story, which makes it even more mystifying why Scorsese chose to relegate his contribution to the movie’s final hour. White’s massive investigative operation, relying primarily on numerous undercover agents in Osage County, could have provided thrilling material for KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. The young Hoover, embarking on his meteoric rise to become one of the most powerful men of the 20th Century, could have made part of this. Also, John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser could have been top-billed supporting actors in their same roles as the prosecution and defense of the murderers in court, as the legal battle to put the murderers behind bars that consumed only a few minutes of screentime in KILLERS actually took three years.
De Niro would have fit his new role of primary villain to a T. De Niro’s Hale, known for his cunning orchestration of Osage County’s criminal underworld, could have proven the perfect narrative foil to J. Edgar Hoover, who was a similar mastermind on the other side of the law. The rest of the supporting cast could have been filled out by Hoover and White’s scrappy band of special agents, impersonating a wide range of professions and social roles throughout the county. This combination courtroom drama and detective thriller would have concluded explosively, as Hoover finally got his longed-for appointment as Director of the Bureau, and Hale was carted off to his life sentence in prison, where he was ironically by none other than Tom White, who transferred to the Bureau of Prisons during the legal fracas.
This “cinema speculation” may be futile, since the picture is already made and ready to be shipped out to theaters this month. However, it reveals the desperate need of Martin Scorsese’s work for a greater diversity of theme and subject matter. There are only so many ways that even one of the greats can tell the exact same story before it becomes canned, trite and, ultimately, boring. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON could have marked the beginning of a bold new frontier for Scorsese as an auteur. Instead, it’s been turned into a comfortable, banal dud.
The moral content in KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON leaves much to be desired. Although Hale and Burkhart’s greed and violence are roundly condemned, there is no redemption or growth out of this immoral way of living. All of the terrible people in the movie stay terrible people at the end. None of the characters who could be a role model in this movie, like the FBI investigators, are explored with enough depth to actually be a role model worth observing. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON deserves significant caution from an entertainment, artistic and moral perspective, for all viewers. Thus, Director Martin Scorsese crafts a banal, overlong story, with some extreme violence, foul language and a lack of redemptive values or good role models to contrast the movie’s greedy, vicious criminal protagonists.
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