In the dimly lit annals of American history, few stories resonate with the chilling blend of betrayal, murder, and conspiracy as the one brought to life in Martin Scorsese's cinematic masterpiece, "Killers of the Flower Moon." Set against the backdrop of the fading Wild West and the Osage Native Americans of Oklahoma, this film delves into a grotesque and far-reaching tale that rivals the darkest of Shakespearean tragedies. With striking visuals and a soul-stirring score, Scorsese paints a harrowing narrative that exposes the hidden heart of American history.
The Osage Nation's Plight:
"Killers of the Flower Moon" opens with a poetic portrayal of the Osage Nation's virgin hills, soon to be marred by oil derricks. Young Osage men, innocent and jubilant, are oblivious to the horrors that await them. An elder mourns the lives lost, while a train disgorges white opportunists hungry for wealth in the dwindling American West. At the forefront is Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a war veteran who unwittingly becomes embroiled in a sinister scheme orchestrated by his uncle, William K. Hale (Robert De Niro). Hale, a symbol of unchecked capitalist greed, seeks to usurp the Osage Indians' oil-rich land through a series of strategic marriages and even assassination.
The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI:
The film is adapted from David Grann's book, "Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI." Grann's work offers a broader perspective on American law and lawlessness, a facet somewhat understated in Scorsese's adaptation. Grann centers the narrative on Tom White (Jesse Plemons), an agent of the nascent Bureau of Investigation, tasked by the ambitious J. Edgar Hoover to solve the baffling Osage crimes. This investigative clash between federal authority and ruthless frontier criminality mirrors a larger story about American law, a theme ripe for exploration.
A Tale of Contrasting Morality:
Ernest Burkhart and William K. Hale embody the dark side of the frontier spirit, tainted by robber baron capitalism. Ernest, driven by opportunism, becomes complicit in Hale's sinister plot, forsaking love for personal gain. The wider white community of Osage County, including oilmen, ranch hands, businessmen, Klansmen, priests, and ex-cons, becomes collectively involved in a conspiracy of mass murder against the Osage people. Their newfound oil wealth in the 1920s makes the Osage per capita the richest people in the world.
While Scorsese admirably captures the criminal and familial aspects of the story, he sidelines the history of law enforcement, a deliberate choice that paints a bleakly revisionist picture of a world without heroes. Despite this, Scorsese's portrayal of the Osage Native Americans stands out for its authenticity and empathy. Casting real tribal leaders and telling the story from their perspective, Scorsese honors their suffering and resilience.
The Rise and Fall Narrative:
Scorsese's penchant for classic rise and fall narratives is evident in "Killers of the Flower Moon," although the finale is less spectacular than usual, with routine courtroom scenes. The most gripping moments occur during White and his fellow agents' interrogations of Ernest and other conspirators. A more pronounced exploration of the conflict between the noble lawman and the morally bankrupt criminals could have enhanced the narrative.
In "Killers of the Flower Moon," Martin Scorsese peels back the layers of a dark chapter in American history, revealing the sinister underbelly of ambition and greed. While the film may miss some nuances present in Grann's book, it remains a testament to Scorsese's storytelling prowess. By empathetically portraying the Osage community and shedding light on their tragedy, Scorsese opens a new chapter in his illustrious career, reminding us of his unparalleled ability to capture the human condition on screen.
As we delve deeper into this harrowing tale, we invite you to explore the intricacies of "Killers of the Flower Moon" and the haunting history it uncovers, shedding light on a forgotten chapter of America's past.