Oil literally erupts from the land of the Osage Native American nation, and they become incredibly wealthy. The opening sequence shows the elders burying a ceremonial pipe that symbolises the death of their old ways, and underlines that for their children they will have to live in the materialistic and greedy world of the white man.
The oil wells not only bring work and prosperity for the Osages and white men, they also bring criminals and those who seek to rob them by manipulation, stealth and murder.
William King Hale, played by Robert De Niro, is shown to be a friend of the Osages and knows about their customs and even speaks their language. He is the uncle of Ernest Burkhart, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who takes Ernest under his wing when he returns from serving in the First World War.
Ernest makes a living as a taxi driver and he falls in love with a regular passenger, Osage Mollie Kyle, played by Lily Gladstone. Hale is pleased with and encourages this relationship, as she is in line to inherit a share of the oil-rich mineral rights on the land.
With his younger brother, Byron played by Scott Shepherd, Ernest carries out armed robberies in the area, and is seduced by the power of money beyond anything else. Once married to Mollie, in a combined Osage/Catholic ceremony, Ernest is persuaded by Hale to kill off members of her family to inherit their wealth.
Ernest and his fellow murderous conspirators are relatively inept, yet the local law enforcement officers and the two local doctors, brothers Dr James and David Shoun, turn a blind-eye. As the murder toll escalates the Osage are forced to seek help from Washington and the Bureau of Investigation.eventually comes to their aid.
Hale and Ernest are arrested, and Ernest is torn between testifying for or against his Uncle. Will he make a choice to support his uncle or will his love for Mollie win out?
Leonardo DiCaprio as the gullible and morally challenged Ernest, Lily Gladstone as the steadfast and savvy Mollie, and Robert De Niro as the duplicitous Hale make for perfect casting.
The cinematography of the vast beautiful landscape contrasted with the congested township gives a real sense of being immersed in the Wild West of the 1920s, where the attitudes of the old west are still alive and kicking.
Based on true events, under Martin Scorsese’s direction this is an epic story that skillfully shows how Hale uses his power to control and manipulate both the criminal underworld and the local authorities. Ernest is just one of his puppets that he uses to steal the property rights of the Osage, despite his outward appearance of being an advocate and friend of the people.
In the past you knew who the enemy was, says one of the nation’s leaders, now with their new wealth anyone can be an enemy. Killers of the Flower Moon chillingly shows how a localised genocide of a people is perpetuated using stealth, rather than an outright attack, and as such presents a microcosm of how indigenous people were regarded and robbed in the USA.
Killers of the Flower Moon is screening at Plymouth Arts Cinema from friday 3 – Saturday 11 November.