Killers of the Flower Moon review – Scorsese’s remarkable epic about the bloody birth of America

Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone star in this macabre western about serial murders among the Osage tribe in 1920s Oklahoma, which reflects the erasure of Native Americans from the US

Martin Scorsese’s western true-crime thriller is about the US’s Osage murders of the early 1920s, based on the nonfiction bestseller by David Grann. With co-writer Eric Roth, Scorsese crafts an epic of creeping, existential horror about the birth of the American century, a macabre tale of quasi-genocidal serial killings which mimic the larger erasure of Native Americans from the US. It places in the drama’s foreground a gaslit marriage of lies and poisoned love. It echoes Scorsese’s earlier work about mob violence, mob loyalty and the final, inevitable sellout to the federal authorities, whose own bad faith gradually emerges. But in the end, this film is about what all westerns are about, and perhaps all history: the brutal grab for land, resources and power.

Lily Gladstone gives a performance of tragic force as Mollie Burkhart, a Native American woman from the Osage tribe who, like all her people, has become unexpectedly wealthy because the apparently stony and unpromising land in Oklahoma on which the authorities allowed the Osage to settle turned out to have huge reserves of oil. But they are still subject to a racist and infantilising condition of “guardianship”: to claim the income and spend it, Osage individuals need a white co-signatory. And there is something else: Mollie and her family are deeply disturbed by mysterious illnesses which have been killing off Osage people, one by one. Later the bodies of Osage murder-victims are found, including Mollie’s wayward sister Anna (Cara Jade Myers), whose autopsy is bizarrely carried out in the open air, at the crime scene itself.

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