Killers of the Flower Moon is a 2023 American revisionist Western crime drama film directed by Martin Scorsese, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Roth, based on the 2017 book of the same title by David Grann. Its plot centers on a series of Oklahoma murders in the Osage Nation during the 1920s, committed after oil was discovered on tribal land. Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone lead an ensemble cast, that also includes Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow and Brendan Fraser. It is the sixth feature film collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio and the tenth between Scorsese and De Niro, and the eleventh and final collaboration between Scorsese and his musical partner Robbie Robertson, who died two months before the film’s release; the film is dedicated to Robertson.
Development began in March 2016 when Imperative Entertainment won the film adaptation rights to the book. Scorsese and DiCaprio were attached to the film in 2017, with production expected to begin in early 2018. Following several pushbacks and delays in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, production was scheduled to commence in February 2021, with Apple TV+ confirmed to finance and distribute the film alongside Paramount Pictures. Principal photography ultimately took place in Osage County and Washington County between April and October of 2021. The film was produced by Scorsese’s Sikelia Productions and DiCaprio’s Appian Way Productions, with its $200 million budget reportedly the largest amount ever spent on a film shot in Oklahoma.
Killers of the Flower Moon premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2023. It was released in the United States on October 20, 2023, by Apple TV+, under their Apple Original Films label, and by Paramount Pictures, which screened the film in IMAX. The film is set for an unspecified streaming release on Apple TV+. The film has grossed over $49 million worldwide.
Osage elders somberly bury a ceremonial pipe, mourning the assimilation of their descendants into white American society. Wandering through their Oklahoma reservation, which features the yearly “flower moon” phenomenon of larger plants killing off smaller ones around May, several Osage find oil gushing from the ground. The tribe becomes wealthy after the exploitation of oil on their lands, but federal laws require white guardians to manage their money.[a]
In 1919, Ernest Burkhart returns from World War I to his rancher uncle William King Hale, who also houses Ernest’s brother Byron on the reservation. The brothers, in masks, commit armed robbery upon Osage people. Hale, a reserve deputy sheriff popularly called “King”, poses as a friendly benefactor of the Osage, speaking their language and bestowing gifts upon them, but he secretly schemes to murder them and steal their wealth. He tells Ernest, who works as a cab driver, to pay special attention to Mollie Kyle, an Osage whose family owns oil headrights. A romance eventually develops between the two, and they are married in a ceremony mixing Catholic and Osage elements.
Hale tells Ernest that he will inherit a greater share of the headrights as more of Mollie’s family dies. He has already ordered the deaths of several wealthy Osage, and continues by ordering the husband of Mollie’s sister Minnie to slowly kill her with poison (the effects resembling a wasting illness) and has her other sister, the rebellious Anna, killed by gunshot. Mollie’s mother, Lizzie Q, blames the white residents of the reservation, as does an Osage council, which urges the members of the tribe to fight back. Lizzie dies in her bed, envisioning her ancestors welcoming her to the afterlife. These events occur against the backdrop of the 1921 white-supremacist Tulsa race massacre, shown on screen.
After Hale approaches him, Ernest displays a reluctance to kill Mollie, with whom he now has two children, though Hale persists and has Ernest poison Mollie by drugging her insulin. Mollie begins to experience the same wasting illness as Minnie. Ernest botches another murder; Hale brutally paddles him. Hale also orders the death of Henry Roan, Mollie’s first husband, and has Ernest order the murders of Rita, Mollie’s last remaining sister, and her husband, by blowing up her house. Mollie now owns all of her family’s headrights: upon her death, Ernest will inherit them. No outside help has yet materialized: a representative of the Osage nation seeking to lobby Congress is murdered in Washington D.C., and a private detective hired by Mollie, William J. Burns, is beaten and chased away from the reservation by a gang of thugs led by Ernest.
In spite of her weakening condition, Mollie travels to Washington herself, and begs President Calvin Coolidge for help. The Bureau of Investigation (BOI) sends Agent Thomas Bruce White Sr. and assistants to investigate. It becomes obvious to the investigators who is behind the plot; Hale tries to cover his tracks by murdering several of his own hired killers, but White ferrets out the truth and arrests him and Ernest. Even though Ernest, at one point, deliberately drinks some of her poison himself, the agents find Mollie nearly dead and get her proper medical care.
White pressures Ernest into a confession and persuades him to turn state’s evidence, testifying against Hale in exchange for legal protection. W. S. Hamilton, Hale’s attorney, convinces Ernest to swear that his confession was the result of torture, but the death of one of Ernest and Mollie’s three children from whooping cough persuades Ernest to testify. Mollie meets with Ernest one last time, but walks out on him when Ernest lies that he did not poison her.
An epilogue is provided through a radio show. Ernest received a life sentence, as did Hale; Ernest was paroled, but Byron turned state’s evidence and avoided jail. Ernest and Hale are eventually released despite Osage protests and live separate lives. The radio show’s producer provides the later details of Mollie’s life: she divorced Ernest, died aged 50 in 1937 from diabetes, and was buried with her family. Her obituary omitted any mention of the murders. In a more modern time, the Osage celebrate their culture in a large tribal dance.
- Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart
- Robert De Niro as William King Hale, Ernest’s uncle
- Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart, Ernest’s Native American wife
- Jesse Plemons as Thomas Bruce White Sr., a BOI agent investigating the murders
- Tantoo Cardinal as Lizzie Q, Mollie’s mother
- John Lithgow as Prosecutor Peter Leaward
- Randy Houser as Scott Mathis, the guardian over the estate of the main family
- Brendan Fraser as W. S. Hamilton, Hale’s attorney
- Cara Jade Myers as Anna Brown, Mollie’s sister
- JaNae Collins as Rita, Mollie’s sister
- Jillian Dion as Minnie, Mollie’s sister
- Jason Isbell as Bill Smith, Minnie’s husband, who later marries Rita after Minnie’s death
- William Belleau as Henry Roan, Mollie’s first husband
- Louis Cancelmi as Kelsie Morrison, an acquaintance and accomplice of Burkhart and Hale’s
- Scott Shepherd as Byron Burkhart, Ernest’s younger brother
- Everett Waller as Paul Red Eagle
- Talee Redcorn as Non-Hon-Zhin-Ga/Traditional Leader
- Yancey Red Corn as Chief Bonnicastle
- Tatanka Means as John Wren, an undercover BOI agent
- Tommy Schultz as Blackie Thompson
- Sturgill Simpson as Henry Grammer
- Ty Mitchell as John Ramsey
- Gary Basaraba as William J. Burns
- Charlie Musselwhite as Alvin Reynolds
- Pat Healy as John Burger
- Steve Witting as Dr. James Shoun
- Steve Routman as Dr. David Shoun
- Michael Abbott Jr. as Frank Smith
- Jack White as Radio Show Actor
- Pete Yorn as Acie Kirby
- Larry Sellers as Non-Hon-Zhin-Ga
- Barry Corbin as Undertaker Turton
- Steve Eastin as Judge Pollock
- Katherine Willis as Myrtle Hale
- Elden Henson as Duke Burkhart
- Gene Jones as Pitts Beatty
- Larry Fessenden as Radio Voice
- Martin Scorsese as Radio Show Producer
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