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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 22, 2023


MARTIN SCORCESE’S latest film is based on the book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” written in 2017 by David Grann.

It is about the series of murders of Native American Indians in Osage County, Oklahoma, considered as the Reign of Terror from 1921 to 1926.

The discovery of oil in Osage tribal land made the natives very wealthy. 

It is reported that about 60 or more Osage people were killed from 1918 to 1931, all heirs to riches gotten from oil, to take over their land and rights to royalties from their property. 

Investigation by the Bureau of Investigation, which later became the FBI or Federal Bureau of Investigation, showed wide corruption among local officials connected with the Osage program.

Not all the guilty parties were prosecuted but one of them, William Hale, and his nephew, were eventually imprisoned.
Their story is what is shown in Scorcese’s film, which starts with an Indian ceremony where the natives bury a ceremonial pipe of their ancestors. 

Then oil is discovered and the Osage natives become very rich, as shown in a montage of newsreel like footage showing them wallowing in their luxurious lifestyle with extravagant fashion apparel and expensive cars.

But as Natives, they are required to have guardians: white men who will help them manage their oil business. Soon, lots of Indian folks are being murdered, without any investigation.

The story proper starts when Ernest Burkhat (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns from serving as a cook in World War and arrives by train in Fairfax, Oklahoma.

He is welcomed by his Uncle William King Hale (Robert De Niro), an influential cattle baron and deputy sheriff in Osage Nation, which is noted for their flower moon that blooms in May.

Ernest finds work as a cab driver and one of his passengers is Mollie (Lily Gladstone, “First Cow”), who comes from a rich Osage family. 

They fall in love and King Hale encourages Ernest to marry her. 

King pretends to be a kind guardian to the Osage people, but in truth, he is exploiting them.

He tells Ernest that if Mollie’s sisters would perish, then he would have more money to inherit.

One of Mollie’s sisters, Anna (Cara Jade Myers) is soon murdered, then another sister, Minnie (Jillian Dion), follows. Even Mollie’s cousin Reta (Janae Collins) and her husband also died when their house is bombed. 

Their mother Lizzie (Tantoo Cardinal) expresses her feelings of dismay over the tragedies in their family which she believes is cause by whites.

Mollie gets a private detective to investigate, but he too, is brutally mauled. 

It turns out that Ernest is connected with all these murders and not only that, he is also slowly poisoning Mollie, as ordered by King.

Mollie goes to Washington DC and asks the president then, Calvin Coolidge, to help them. 

An agent who is a former Texas Ranger, Tom White (Jesse Plemons), is sent to handle the case and King tries to cover up his misdeeds by killing the killers he has previously hired to carry out the crimes he had ordered.

Both Ernest and King are arrested while Mollie is taken to the hospital to get proper medical care. Scorcese then becomes more inventive in telling us about the final fate of  the various characters. 

Instead of the usual written epilogue shown at the end credits for a closing summation, he stages a 1940s radio program being aired live where we learned what happened to Ernest, King, Mollie and the other characters, with Scorcese himself playing the role of the producer.

No doubt the film has good intentions in showing the injustice done to Native Americans by greedy white American capitalists.

The material is given epic treatment by Scorcese. It is also very well acted by the two lead actors. 

But we honestly cannot understand why the movie is told from the point of view of these two white scoundrels, when the story is actually about the exploited Osage people, victims of injustice who appear more like supporting players in this film.

With a running time of 3 and a half hours, this is a self indulgent film just like Scorcese’s last movie, “The Irishman”, which also ran for a bloated 3 hours and a half.

It will be a test of patience specially for viewers who are used to faster paced storytelling. 

The best way to watch this is really via streaming where you can flash it forward when it’s dragging and you are getting bored and want to go to the CR.

While we’re watching this ordeal, we keep on making a mental note as to which scenes are unnecessarily long and can be edited to hasten the pacing. 

Most of the untrained actors give a documentary kind of reality to the movie. Acclaimed actors are also hired in the final act to play lawyers in the courtroom scenes, John Lithgow and recent Oscar winner Brendan Fraser. 

Lily Gladstone, who is really a native American, is well cast as Mollie. 

Her role is not as big as DiCaprio and De Niro, but Molly is the film’s moral core. 

She has a calmness that serves her well specially when she asks her husband what he puts in her medicine and he continues to lie to her. 

We’re told she divorced him and remarried later. Honestly, Ernest deserves a worse fate than that.

If anything, we hope the film will serve as a reminder about the treachery the whites did to indigenous people that should not be allowed to happen ever again.