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The Almost Success: Killers of the Flower Moon & its 10 Nominations

By Mason Edwards, News Editor

Apple Original Films' "Killers of the Flower Moon" was recognized with 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Martin Scorsese), and Best Actress in a Leading Role (Lily Gladstone). (Photo: Business Wire)

(AP Photo)

Even though critics praise the stellar acting, cinematography and cultural sensitivity in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” general audiences can’t get over the complete lack of tension—the-edge-of-your-seat feeling needed to survive the long runtime.

As an award-winning director multiple times over, Scorsese’s name is attached to highly-rated successes like “Goodfellas” (1990) “Taxi Driver” (1976) “Shutter Island” (2010) and “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013). Scorsese’s reliance on his style, which succeeded for decades in part to his loyal collaborations with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, seems to offer nothing new to his latest movie.

Set in 1920s Oklahoma during a murder epidemic of wealthy Osage Native Americans, the movie follows Earnest Burkhart’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) return from France to Osage County, where he’s mentored by his uncle and local political boss, William King Hale (Robert De Niro.) In a violent, greedy plot, the film sees Hale encourage his nephew to marry Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone) to benefit from her claim to Osage oil money.

Hale hides behind his friendship with the leaders of the Osage nation while simultaneously ordering contract killings of their members to benefit himself and Earnest. Most of the murders revolve around Mollie’s family, whose personal share of wealth grows as her siblings die around her. Several tribe members become concerned when Hale ensures no investigations into the deaths occur, so they send a delegate to Washington, D.C. and Mollie hires a private investigator, who are quickly murdered and attacked, respectively.

As a diabetic, Mollie braves her illness to travel to Washington, D.C herself and asks President Calvin Coolidge for help. Because of her lobbying, Hale orders Earnest to poison his wife—but that didn’t stop the early precursor to the FBI—the Bureau of Investigation—from looking into the deaths. The pressure mounts, so Earnest carefully weighs his options, loyalties and guilt.

Despite the slow pacing, audiences would have a difficult time turning off the movie thanks to the captivating, convincing performances by the main cast—who all learned lines in the Osage language for the movie. DiCaprio’s range remains impressive, as he portrays a gullible, greedy coward who realizes through a magnificent showing of grief and regret that fatherhood and family were more important than building a fortune.

Lily Gladstone deserved her Oscar nomination with her impactful retelling of Kyle’s stoicism, illness and grief. Her standout scenes included Mollie’s first dinner with Earnest, her arguments with him and loss of her sister, Reta. Without the pop culture standouts of “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie,” she could have won an Oscar.

Meanwhile, the Academy also recognized Robert De Niro’s essential role as a talent actor, capable of realistically embodying a corrupt puppet-master with a superiority complex. De Niro brings range into the role, which has him order, threaten and manipulate but also make deals, plead and pray.

The movie takes a strongly subtle approach towards cinematography, with many of the edits and effects being unobtrusive to the story. Evident by the few instances of dramatic lighting, a fade out and slow motion, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is a visual marathon that rewards viewers incrementally throughout the movie, with large payoffs towards the climax.

It was also praised for its period-relevant soundtrack, which incorporates blues, Western and Native American music from the 1920s, the music helps movie viewers along through the longer than average story.

Enough cannot be said about the production’s approach to its theme and its respect to the Osage people. Scorsese’s ability to sympathetically show the exploitation of Indigenous peoples is thought-provoking. His analysis of the historic relationship between the white grifters and wealthy Osage reveals the plundering, greed and injustice many native tribes suffered under American citizens and their government.

The movie helps bring historically covered-up indigenous history to the mainstream, but if the writing more closely followed the Osage people instead of following DiCaprio, it could have become a cultural sensation. DiCaprio wanted to play the more challenging character of Earnest instead of the federal agent, a decision leading to a premature reveal of the killers and their motives. Without DiCaprio’s stardom power and with better writing, Scorsese could have avoided spoiling the tension in the first twenty minutes.

Rather than sitting through the movie, general audiences and those interested in history should read the riveting—according to reviews—source material: David Grann’s 2017 nonfiction book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.

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