Based on a book by David Grann, “The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI”, the reference in the title of the film is to the full Moon in May synonymous with the appearance of brightly coloured blooming flowers after a long, cold winter. The story is based on some true events in Osage county, Oklahoma in the early 1920s, as the lives of the natives change radically with the discovery of oil. Although the natives have headrights, there are guardianship restrictions of how they spend their money requiring a white cosignatory.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays a nephew of William ‘King’ Hale named Ernest Burkhart who returns from a spell as an army cook to his wealthy uncle’s cattle ranch. Hale has assumed the role of a town elder, benefactor and friend of the native Indians, but his true motivation is about to be revealed. He turns out to be duplicitous, avaricious and manipulative as well as hypocritical. Burkhart is naïve, gullible and somewhat simple who falls in love with a native Indian woman and who might have emerged as a hero rather than a villain if he had fully realised the extent to which he was being played.
The real hero (heroine) of the story is played by Ernest’s wife Mollie who suffers from diabetes and whose brave trip to Washington helps to reveal the whole sordid plot as the fledgling FBI gets involved. Her Oscar level performance will take some beating. Di Caprio and Robert Di Niro, who plays ‘King’ Hale are also right up there.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” is part western, part romance, part organised crime: the killing of 20 Osage residents. Whilst it has been criticised for being over long, I personally think that the 3 hours 20 minutes flies by very fast. If it weren’t for an ingenuous epilogue, it would have been longer. The only puzzling thing is why cinemas don’t have intermissions during long films any more, a practice that theatres have largely retained.
Praise also for Robbie Robertson who uses “pictures in his head of music heard as a child at Six Nations Indian Reserve” to inspire his excellent soundtrack which is punctuated by old blues numbers. The story was written by Marin Scorsese and Eric Roth and the director was Martin Scorsese.