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Talon

veritas exquirere

Talon

A chilling portrait makes essential viewing: ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

Martin Scorsese’s historical epic should not be missed
A chilling portrait makes essential viewing: ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

I didn’t walk into the theater with immense enthusiasm for the upcoming three-and-a-half hours of Martin Scorsese’s new film. The cynic in me took the abbreviated TV commercial I had seen of “Killers of the Flower Moon” and decided that it was probably an Oscar grab from leading man Leonardo DiCaprio. With some knowledge of the history behind the story, I feared, based on not even the full preview, that it would be an action-movie spin on an American tragedy infused with the perverted spirit of today’s true crime.

I found that it was anything but that. 

Based on a true story, “Killers of the Flower Moon” carried its responsibility to history all throughout the film. Central to the plot is the Osage Nation, a Native American tribe that was forced to cede their ancestral territory to the United States government. Their new reservation was infertile and believed to be barren of natural resources, until the sudden discovery of oil. Through property rights, all members and relations of the Osage were guaranteed quarterly payments derived from the mineral estate’s profits. The resulting economic boom on the reservation propelled the Osage into prosperity.

It also made them a target. The film centers around Ernest Burkhart, played by DiCaprio, a returning war veteran who moves to his uncle’s ranch on Osage land. He begins a relationship with Mollie Kyle, a wealthy Osage woman, as he simultaneously becomes involved in his uncle’s extensive crime ring. 

Burkhart joins a sect of the white population that engages in a plot to seize Osage headrights. His marriage to Kyle places him in dangerous proximity to all that she owns and loves. The pull of her community’s wealth becomes something he cannot resist, all while he tries to lead the life of a family man. One violent crime spirals into a reign of murders and terror, all in the pursuit of the Osage’s wealth.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is ingeniously self-aware and seeks to subvert failed Hollywood narratives of historical movies past. Scorsese’s sickening love story is intertwined with an exposé of long-forgotten events. Every second of the film demands that you bear witness. 

To me, therein lies the film’s strength. It serves as a refreshing counter to the, by comparison, bland and rah-rah heroism of another movie giant from this year, Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” 

“Killers of the Flower Moon” portrays the repeated suffering of the Native American Osage Nation without shying away from the immense bloodshed born out of white greed. Your skin will crawl, your popcorn will sour, but I implore you not to look away. Three-and-a-half hours move at a terrifying pace. 

And yet, for all the corruption and treachery, there are shots of vast Oklahoma fields filled with wildflowers. Scenes of Osage tribal gatherings and celebrations, endings and new beginnings create a snapshot in time. Represented on-screen, the fantastical elements of myths central to their heritage and culture pay tribute to the indigenous Osage who were once some of the wealthiest people per capita

Scorsese is masterful in his storytelling, the film’s cinematography dynamic. A vibrant and detailed set and costumes build the small world of 1920s Oklahoma, while a sweeping score sets the pace. Seamless screenwriting binds the epic together. 

Indigenous actress Lily Gladstone’s role as Kyle was done with commanding delicacy. Subtlety dominated her performance, and it outdid Academy Award winner DiCaprio. His performance, as intended, made my stomach churn. But Gladstone—every appearance on screen was a study in restraint interspersed with raw emotion. She conveyed every bit of what it means to lose everything, truly everything, one can have. Gladstone plays a character who is stripped bare and still perseveres, all until one final crescendo of heartbreak brings everything down. 

“It’s just like Tulsa,” Osage members whisper in a haunting scene, a reference to the Tulsa Race Massacre and burning of Black Wall Street. The acknowledgment of another historical attack on prospering minorities, one that occurred in the same time period in the same state, is part of the film’s endless historical detail. Detail woven in up until an unexpected ending.

Still in theaters or now on Apple TV, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is essential viewing—a chilling portrait of the darkness within the human spirit and what, if anything, prevails under the watchful eye of the moon.

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Mara Hankins, Editor-in-Chief
A junior, Mara Hankins currently serves as the editor-in-chief for the 2022-2023 school year. She is also the director and founder of Medea Creek Middle School's Journalism Program, a student mentorship opportunity that has given younger students their own publication, the Panther Post. She was the news editor for the 2022-2023 school year and a senior staff writer for the 2021-2022 year.
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  • Jan WillisDec 1, 2023 at 2:57 pm

    This is a fabulous movie review–and I love to watch movies and read about them. I read the book while we were in Heidelberg, Germany–and the book was detailed but entirely riveting. Now I need to see the film. Many thanks for your work as newspaper editor and writer.

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