There are event movies, and then there are Martin Scorsese movies. Over half a century, the master American director has meticulously crafted an all but unrivalled filmography. And his latest epic, Killers of the Flower Moon, adds to his repertoire of future classics.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone, the film follows a dark chapter in American history. The Osage Nation in Oklahoma, after becoming wealthy unexpectedly, is targeted by one man orchestrating as many murders as necessary to secure money and power.
Before the film opens exclusively in cinemas on October 19, here are five reasons not to miss what might just be the year’s most richly researched epic when it makes its big screen debut.
It’s based on a true story
Adapted from David Grann’s widely acclaimed non-fiction book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, the movie focuses on the systematic elimination of key members of the Osage Nation during the 1920s. This tragic set of events really happened, and is increasingly recognised today as a form of genocide.
Following the discovery that the Osage reservation in the newly formed state of Oklahoma holds abundant oil reserves, its people are considered the richest in the world (per capita). Greedy cattleman William Hale (De Niro) devises a plot to covertly kill a majority of Native Americans tied to the oil. He also encourages his nephew Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) to establish inroads into the community by courting and marrying Osage woman Mollie (Gladstone).
As unexplained poisonings of the Osage people increase, Burkhart is torn between his uncle’s ruthless wishes, and his loyalty to, and love for, his ailing wife. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Investigations (soon-to-be-renamed the FBI) sends a curious agent (Jesse Plemons) to look into the suspicious deaths and the escalating threat of violence around them.
The story is as thrilling as it is timely
Despite being a true story, the clandestine massacre of the Osage people is mostly unknown today. The movie uses the bond of marriage as a metaphor for the faltering relationship between the aggressive colonisers and the Native American population.
The Osage people were interviewed at great length for Grann’s book. Further, their current leader Chief Standing Bear was visited by Scorsese during development and observed the filming of several scenes. In recounting their history of the killings, they made sure their side of the story was told in both the book and the film.
At a time when First Peoples issues and voices are being brought to the fore – not just in America, but also in Australia and the rest of the world – this look at a dark period of history that’s been buried is more relevant than ever.
This is epic filmmaking at its finest
Covering crucial yet overlooked historical events, Killers of the Flower Moon is an epic tale – even by Scorsese’s standards. He co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Oscar-winning writer Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Dune), and ensured that costumes, hair, makeup and production design re-created the era and setting perfectly.
Between this painstaking attention to detail and wide-scale lensing by Oscar-winning cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, Barbie), the film demands to be seen on the big screen. Even the soundtrack – composed by the recently departed Robbie Robertson – is stunning in scope.
Leo leads a top-shelf cast
In their sixth feature-length film collaboration, DiCaprio reunites with Scorsese to play the conflicted Burkhart, manipulated at length by his uncle Hale; DeNiro’s searing performance as the latter marks his tenth feature-length collaboration with the director.
But earning some of the best reviews at the film’s debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May was relative newcomer Gladstone, who plays Ernest’s diabetes-stricken wife, Mollie. A woman of Blackfeet and Nimíipuu heritage, Gladstone is campaigning for Best Actress at the Academy Awards for her role; she’ll be the first-ever Native American nominee in the category if she scores a nod. The supporting cast – alongside Plemons – includes Brendan Fraser, John Lithgow, and musicians Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson.
It’s by a master at the top of his game
Scorsese’s name is synonymous with acclaimed filmmaking, from early works like Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) to more recent statements such as The Departed (2006) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). He has the kind of rare reputation in Hollywood that makes every movie compulsory viewing.
Killers of the Flower Moon sees the award-winning director elaborate on themes prevalent across his distinct storytelling, including strong commentary on violence, power and coercion in America. Add the familiar faces of repeat collaborators, and the film marks the culmination of one of the most definitive filmmaking careers in American history.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Paramount Pictures. Killers of the Flower Moon is showing exclusively in cinemas from October 19.