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Review: Lily Gladstone Gives Humanity to Inhumane Story in 'Killers of the Flower Moon'

"This blanket is a target on our backs."

Let's set the scene: 1920s Oklahoma. The Osage Nation becomes the chosen people by chance as the tribe of the Great Plains gains extreme wealth due to their discovery of oil on their land. In fact, during this time, they are the wealthiest people per capita in the United States. But with great wealth comes great tragedy, and one by one, many members of the Osage Nation begin dying of mysterious illnesses. Call it racism or a complete disregard for lawful actions, but these deaths are not investigated.

It is said that during this era, the life expectancy of an Osage woman was 50 years old.

In a lawless land ripe for grifters, white men of all ages begin moving into the Oklahoma county in search of black gold. Enter Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a war veteran who moves to Oklahoma to live with his uncle Bill Hale (Robert De Niro) and works as a taxi driver for oil-rich Native Americans in the area. At first glance, Ernest seems trustworthy and handsome, but he isn't above robbing neighbors to gain a few extra dollars. Uncle Bill is no different. He considers himself "King of the Osage Hills," and while everyone in the county respects him greatly, he is also a dirty thief underneath the surface.

Ernest meets Mollie (Lily Gladstone), an Osage lass inflicted with diabetes and part of a wealthy family of women. The two seemingly fall in love and get married fast, much to the interest of Uncle Bill. You see, many white men in the area have been wooing full-blooded Osage women in order to inherit their estates. Many of these women soon begin to show signs of sickness and die a tragic death, while their husbands are never prosecuted. Money flows freely due to headrights, giving land to those that don't deserve it.

As the film progresses, Mollie's diabetes takes a turn for the worse, and her health declines dramatically. She sees several family members die rapidly and begins to question everything and everyone around her community. Holding out hope that her husband would never hurt her, she misplaces her trust in the wrong white men and sees the ramifications of her actions.

Evil surrounds every square inch of "Killers of the Flower Moon." Each white man that comes onto the screen is a schemer, destined to kill women and children to gain extreme wealth in a short time. This is during the rise of the KKK and the Tulsa Massacre. It's revolting, stunning, and historical.

As Mollie grows suspicious of the people and events surrounding her and the funerals of her beloved friends and family pile up, the film devolves into treacherous territory akin to a mafia picture. She hires a private investigator after local and state officials don't take her case, and eventually, 2 hours into the film, Jesse Plemons shows up as an FBI agent keen on tracking down the killer(s).

Directed by Martin Scorsese and based on a 2017 novel by David Grann, "Killers of the Flower Moon" is astonishingly horrific and genius filmmaking at its most provocative. The movie is a personal one to Scorsese, as evidenced by Ernest and Bill's ruthless crimes juxtaposed with the helpless nature of the Osage people. The true crime elements take a deep dive into the abyss of humanity's worst qualities. Scorsese's carefully crafted lens utilizes long shots of expansive American landscapes to provide context to a disgusting time in our nation's history. It is vicious, violent, vile, and equally vital.

Though the film traverses early 20th-century political and social subtext, the savage crimes committed against the Osage Nation feel like something out of tales from the Wild West. Gladstone, DiCaprio, and De Niro are at the absolute top of their acting game. De Niro stands out in a performance not seen by the actor since "Casino" or "Goodfellas." His Uncle Bill presents himself as a righteous man, but he's a master manipulator, while DiCaprio's Ernest is heavily influenced by his uncle's demands and charismatic qualities. It's almost as if Scorsese purposely asked DiCaprio to wear his hair parted in the middle to accentuate Ernest's complex balancing act of murderous acts and his love for his wife and family.

Lily Gladstone's work as Mollie Burkhart is strong-willed and calculated. While Ernest and Bill are wolves in sheep's clothing, Mollie is the heart and soul of a people long plagued by the greedy actions of the white men of America's history. The runtime of nearly 3.5 hours might seem daunting, but please don't be deterred. Mollie's decline in health and Scorsese's gradual presentation of her slowly dying at the hands of those she trusts must be watched and felt with every passing scene.

White men view marriage as a business opportunity and their wives' early deaths as cashing out on the lottery of a lifetime. Business was good for these men. "Killers of the Flower Moon" gives a voice to those who can no longer speak and provides an accurate portrayal of events that changed the course of history for many people. A surprising cameo and wrap-up towards the end, mixed with a stunning supporting cast including merciless appearances by Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow, help create tension in an already uncomfortable story.

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟🎟🎟


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