“There is no calamity greater than lavish desires. There is no greater guilt than discontentment. And there is no greater disaster than greed.” - Lao-Tzu
In 1988 acclaimed filmmaker and storyteller Akira Kurosawa wrote a letter to fellow legendary creator Ingmar Bergman. In this correspondence Kurosawa stated how much Bergman’s work meant to him. He proclaimed his newfound inspiration emanating from Bergman’s films. He tells Bergman that he was reminded of a great artist from Japan named Tessai Tomioka who lived in the Meiji Era (late 19th century). He goes on to tell Bergman:
“This artist painted many excellent pictures while he was still young, and when he reached the age of eighty, he suddenly started painting pictures which were much superior to the previous ones, as if he were in magnificent bloom. Every time I see his paintings, I fully realize that a human is not really capable of creating really good works until he reaches eighty.”
He continues by stating his ideal life cycle of being born, becoming a boy, enduring his youth (the prime of his life) and eventually returning to being a baby before the close of his life. Near the end of his letter he says in this second turn at being a baby is when inspiration is at its greatest, with zero restrictions. He tells Bergman he is, at the time of the letter, seventy-seven (Bergman was seventy) and that he believes his greatest works are just beginning. In the close of his message he begs Bergman to hold out for the sake of movies.
I bring this up because my favorite filmmaker is Martin Scorsese who turned eighty years old just this year. If Kurosawa was right it’s exciting to think about the possibilities that still lie ahead with Scorsese’s filmography.
First up is his latest triumph, Killers of the Flower Moon. It tells a scathingly blunt and brutally honest true story about the tragedies committed against members of the Osage tribe in the 1920s. Masterfully he controls the narrative never losing focus of the true victims of such unbridled greed. Alongside the brilliant performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro they start the journey by making the audience believe there is hope among the wolves at the doorstep of these native peoples. You can see the strains of such relationships between the newly grounded white people and the long standing Osage tribe from the very beginning. Through deception and mistruths however many of the Osage are lulled into a false sense of well-being. While they are never fully trusting of these white devils they begrudgingly let their guards down enough for their unperceived enemy to close their distance.
It is well known that many if not all of the native Americans across this country were once given land unwanted by the government simply because it was seen as barren and unlivable. For the Osage a mixed blessing and curse came upon them and their land in the form of black gold, also known as oil. It made them wealthy beyond their imaginations but along with it came the greed of man, particularly that of the white, affluent invaders. I don’t think there is a more perfect, real world example of the tale of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. In the case of the Osage murders it was wolves, far too many to count.
To show the truest form of these sins of unimaginable scale their ending must be told without a blind eye just the same as the rest of the story. As we have seen so many times during our own lives, the wealthy seem to answer to an entirely different set of rules than the rest of us. In Killers of the Flower Moon we see their arrogance as they manipulate, agitate and ultimately mutilate an innocent tribe of native Americans for the abhorrently simplistic reason of money. It is, in its most raw form, an unleashed, unchecked and unrestrained form of greed. At the helm of this particular doomed ship is the deceptively dutiful, dangerously disingenuous William “King” Hale, played like a true hidden predator by the brilliant Robert De Niro. In his most nurturing moments you learn this is when he is at his most dangerous and most meddlesome. If wolves move in a pack, he is most certainly their alpha.
At his feet lay the omega sent to test the limits of their self-proclaimed prey, the Osage. That omega, the disposable scapegoat and weakling among the pack is Ernest Burkhart, played both innocently and wickedly by Leonardo DiCaprio. His role, beneath the hand of his uncle, nicknamed with ego intact, King, is to infiltrate the women of the Osage and win them over through marriage and seemingly unlimited falsehoods. DiCaprio’s performance is fascinating for the simple fact that despite committing some unbelievably atrocious acts he believes to his core that he is doing what is best for him and his new wife, Mollie, who is of course, Osage. While thinking he is very much on the inside of the plans masterminded by his uncle, he slowly learns he is in fact being left to hang by the neck with the very rope he tied himself.
Killers of the Flower Moon is about uncontrolled greed and what happens to those that find themselves on the tracks completely unaware of the impending train barreling down on them. The Osage faced unmitigated tragedies at the hands of people operating under the banner of friendship, kinship and mutually beneficial, professional business relationships. What they would in fact be facing is unchecked murder and theft at unbelievable levels. The greatest tragedy of all is that no one outside of the Osage cared whatsoever. The bodies of men and particularly women were left discarded with the obvious message that they wouldn’t be the last to meet such a fate. While oil flowed from their land, so too did their very blood.
Killers of the Flower Moon is brilliant. (I think Kurosawa might be onto something.) Scorsese continues to demonstrate that despite his age, his touch and aptitude for sharp storytelling has in no way dulled. He’s as remarkable as ever. His continued working relationship with De Niro and DiCaprio keeps paying off with commanding, often intimidating performances. At the heart and soul of this story is Mollie, played stoically and confidently by Lily Gladstone. She is at once tender but rarely without a sense of unease about those waving their dirtied white flags with claims of no harm or foul as they near her doorstep and by proximity, her inheritable wealth. While it does stretch to a heart-skipping three hours and twenty-six minutes the runtime is justified to tell such a complete and compelling story that is both brilliantly entertaining and unceasingly horrendous, showcasing past atrocities gone by the wayside for far too long. Go for the performances, beautiful cinematography, the sweeping scale of the film and commanding leadership of Scorsese, stay for the stories of loss and violation that plagued an entire tribe of native Americans just trying to justify their existence among the most bloodthirsty of predators. It is a harrowing story in dire need of being told and more importantly, heard.
I believe it is the goal of Martin Scorsese to shine a light on a tragic occurrence that for far too long went unnoticed. In an act of self examination he is acknowledging the atrocities of our country in hopes of righting at least some of the wrongs that have clung to this tribe for ages. It is just a movie of course but it can, to an extent, act as a source of awareness for the uninitiated who until now have lived in the ignorance of such an event. He isn’t trying to force a movie to fix things but rather to give hope that such a thing or anything like it will never happen to them again.
The final paragraph of a statement from the director:
“I hope that “Killers of the Flower Moon” will bring widespread awareness to a part of American history that has never been widely known or acknowledged outside of the Osage community and the Nations in general. On a deeper level, I’d like to believe we’ve made something that Osages can see and absorb and accept as an offering. A movie, yes. But an offering that acknowledges the extent of the terror they experienced, and one that might also give some kind of solace. That’s my sincere hope.” —M.S.
Rated R For: violence, some grisly images and language
Runtime: 206 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Crime, Drama, History
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Out of 10
Story: 10/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 10/ Visuals: 10
Buy to Own: Yes. In theaters wide, October 20th. Streaming globally on Apple TV+ sometime after its exclusive theatrical run.
Check out the trailer below: