Being stuck in the world’s eighth worst place in terms of hours spent in traffic and the eager wait for the release of national IDs have prepared Filipinos to experience Martin Scorsese’s long opus, Killers of the Flower Moon, clocking out at three hours and 26 minutes. This bladder-busting film is the 80-year-old filmmaker’s attempt for his notion of “cinema” to step up amid the superhero craze he has previously compared to theme park attractions.
Scorsese’s film, however, falls under the genre of Western movies that proliferated roughly a quarter of studio output between 1945 and 1965, not different from what superhero movies have been in the last decade. It’s also a crime drama, which filled nearly every theater in the 1930s. But I digress. To be fair, he explained that what he defines as cinema are films that are not predictable and riskier without going through market research and processes that ensure a film’s commercial success.
Based on the nonfiction book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by American journalist David Grann, the film centers on the relationship between the family man Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Native American wife, Mollie (Lily Gladstone), who belongs to a family that receives part of revenues from the oil-rich land in Osage County, Oklahoma.
Guiding their married life is Ernest’s charismatic uncle, William King Hale (Robert De Niro)—a cattle rancher who also serves as a deputy sheriff in the town of Fairfox, owns a controlling interest in Fairfox Bank, and partly owns the town's general store and funeral home. Hale is immersed in every power sect, making him an untouchable kingpin of the Osage county.
Set in the 1920s, this was the time when wealthy Native Americans still needed a white man as a signatory over their finances, and white supremacists Ku Klux Klan joined in parades. The people of Osage have “headrights,” which means they receive a quarterly payment from the Osage Mineral Estate. These can be transferred to a non-Osage person through an insurance policy upon death, simplistically speaking.
Despite the nitty-gritty of the gruesome killings, the story does not lose its focus on the couple, applying the Rashomon effect in the first two acts. The film begins with their blossoming romance, seemingly the calm before the storm. Things turn sinister when every member of Mollie’s family either dies of unexplainable illnesses or gets murdered.
Gladstone’s subtle yet powerful portrayal of a Native American woman victimized by the white men around her is astounding. It is not hard to root for her while evil emerges victorious over her every attempt to seek help.
The film does not filter the gore, intending to bring the audience to the crime scenes, explosion sites, and public autopsies, with a feeling of disgust over how the First Nation Americans have been exploited by the descendants of its white colonizers.
One of Scorcese’s finest works, Killers of the Flower Moon reveals the sins of the past that the United States may not have done penance for. From the battle cry “Black Lives Matter” to the “Stop Asian Hate” movement, some of the scenes from the film still ring a bell, even after a century.
Rated R13, Killers of the Flower Moon opens in Philippine cinemas on Oct. 18. Watch the trailer below.