Cannes: ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ grips, disturbs — and disappoints (2023)

CANNES, France—

Like more than a few Martin Scorsese epics, the searing, sprawling “Killers of the Flower Moon” recounts a horrific campaign of violence from the inside. Adapted from David Grann’s 2017 nonfiction book, the movie revisits an oil-rich, increasingly blood-soaked stretch of 1920s Oklahoma — a land whose wealthy Osage Nation owners have begun to die under brutal and mysterious circumstances. The killers’ identities aren’t obvious, at least not at first, though their motives very much are: Their aim is to right the balance in a world where their presumed racial and cultural inferiors have been granted an unworthy position of influence. To that end, the Osage must be divested of their riches by any means necessary, including oppression and extortion, marriage and murder.

The movie, which premiered out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday, is both like and unlike anything its director has ever done.

It finds Scorsese reteaming with two of his favorite actors, who last appeared together three decades ago in “This Boy’s Life”: Robert De Niro plays William Hale, a powerful cattle rancher in Fairfax, Okla., and Leonardo DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart, his obedient if somewhat feckless nephew.


The larger sphere in which these two men and many others operate is, on one level, a familiar Scorsesean jumble of work and family, money and violence. And yet in its balance of Wild West expanses and intimate domestic spaces, and its focus on Indigenous men and women whose good fortune quickly turns ill, this world is also, for Scorsese, a fascinating new visual, dramatic and political frontier.

In the background of all the dense, teeming action you may hear reverberant echoes of “Goodfellas” and “The Irishman,” “Gangs of New York” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” among other indelible American epics of organized crime and tribalist violence. But you will also hear — in the agonized cries and silences of an Osage woman named Mollie Burkhart (a superb Lily Gladstone), Ernest’s wife — a story of this nation’s original sin, here compounded to a degree of monstrosity and horror that can give even a chronicler of human evil as seasoned as Scorsese pause.

(Video) Killers of the Flower Moon - First Reviews w/ Rotten Tomatoes Score REACTION

Cannes: ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ grips, disturbs — and disappoints (1)

Robert De Niro as a powerful cattle rancher and Leonardo DiCaprio as his nephew in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

(Melinda Sue Gordon / Apple)

And a pause, at this juncture, is perhaps worth taking. Since well before the movie was even completed, the anticipation around “Killers of the Flower Moon” has been especially feverish. That’s partly because every new Scorsese movie is an event, for better or worse, and partly because its arrival, for some cinephiles, would be the truest sign that the movies, at least as we knew and loved them before March 2020, are well and truly back.

Before it begins streaming on Apple TV+, “Killers” will receive an October theatrical release through Paramount Pictures, which will provide a test of how large an audience remains for a filmmaker of Scorsese’s nonindustrial bent and epic ambitions. (His previous movie, 2019’s “The Irishman,” was distributed by Netflix.)

The movie’s unveiling at Cannes marks a meaningful return for a filmmaker who won the Palme d’Or here almost 50 years ago for “Taxi Driver” (1976) and whose unflagging commitment to world cinema can honestly be called commensurate with the festival’s own. But navigating Cannes can also be tricky, which may explain the caution apparent at the movie’s premiere: It received only one public gala screening at the festival and was slotted out of competition, though the festival’s director, Thierry Frémaux, has noted in interviews that he invited Scorsese’s movie to compete.

At a time when the state of cinema looks at once promising and as precarious as ever, a gamble as risky as Scorsese’s — and he is, as many of us have noted, a filmmaker who thrives on risk — comes cloaked in concerns about an acclaimed white filmmaker taking on a story of Indigenous suffering, plus the more banal anxieties about reviews, hype and awards season.

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“I just saw my life flash before my eyes,” Ford said at Cannes on Thursday, thanking wife Calista Flockhart and his “Dial of Destiny” collaborators.

My own preliminary thoughts on “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which I look forward to revisiting closer to release, will attempt to avoid feeding either of those pitfalls. (It will also attempt to avoid giving away too many plot details, though since history can’t really be spoiled, read on with caution.)

Any proper estimation of the movie must begin with an appreciation of Grann’s painstakingly researched book, an intricately layered detective story that Scorsese and his co-writer, Eric Roth, try and sometimes struggle to condense. One of their shrewder tactics is to begin the story as an odd-couple courtship as Ernest, a war veteran, ingratiates himself with the wealthy, wary Mollie.

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“He wants our money,” one of her relatives warns her. Mollie doesn’t deny it, but she also can’t deny that Ernest, though not the brightest of suitors, is handsome and charming and seems to genuinely care for her in an aw-shucks kind of way. An early shot of the two future spouses seated side by side at a table, quietly enjoying each other’s company, seems to put them on equal and trustworthy footing.

Cannes: ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ grips, disturbs — and disappoints (3)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

(Melinda Sue Gordon / Apple)

It’s a lovely image and also a lie. Years pass, children are born and the killings begin. Mollie’s sister Anna (Cara Jade Myers) is found shot to death near a river; their mother, Lizzie (Tantoo Cardinal), dies of a “wasting illness,” the same that will soon come to afflict Mollie. The deaths of these and multiple other Osage men and women in the surrounding community are rattled off in somber, dispassionate narration; few of them, we learn, resulted in any police action or investigation.

Hale, played with scarily authoritative restraint by De Niro, looms over the proceedings like a shadow; Ernest, like some of the other flop-sweat cases DiCaprio has played for Scorsese, becomes increasingly racked with guilt and self-loathing. Corruption and red herrings abound; bombs explode and bombshells are dropped. Answers are few and far between.

The truth comes slowly tumbling out — and justice of a sort is achieved — thanks only to the dogged work of Tom White (an underused Jesse Plemons), a gifted federal investigator tasked by an off-screen J. Edgar Hoover with getting to the bottom of the Osage murders.

Grann’s book doubles, thrillingly, as an early history of the FBI, and White emerges as its most compelling character. Disappointingly, his role and those of his fellow detectives, many of whom have to operate undercover, are given comparatively short shrift on-screen. It’s an understandable narrative strategy in a movie that wants to avoid the obvious, triumphalist conventions of the detective procedural and that wants to be a grim indictment of genocidal capitalism. But that becomes harder and harder to do as the story’s emotional and psychological weight shifts disproportionately toward Ernest, and in ways that DiCaprio’s increasingly anguished perma-frown of a performance can’t entirely shoulder.

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It’s a strange way of life indeed at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, where rough weather, scandal-mired movies and Indiana Jones collide.

This is hardly the first time Scorsese has placed a man’s tormented soul boldly front and center; his two most recent movies, the very different “Silence” (2016) and “The Irishman” (2019), managed this with particular brilliance. But the triple-threat combo of Scorsese, DiCaprio and De Niro, obviously the movie’s main selling point, also comes to feel like its central distraction.

Gladstone’s performance, a heartrending mix of authority, confusion and fear, goes a long way toward keeping this dynamic in check, as Ernest and Mollie’s marriage becomes its own wrenching metaphor for the cruelty of Manifest Destiny. She’s the key to the movie’s more resonant, Osage-focused moments, the ones with little visual or narrative precedent in the director’s filmography.

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At times you’ll wish cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto would linger longer on the wide-open prairie landscapes or on the lively, quotidian hustle and bustle in the streets of Fairfax. At key moments, Scorsese and his co-writer, Roth, will dramatize an Osage wedding, burial or other ceremonial tradition, pausing to take in the faces in the crowd and the intricate patterns on their robes. Or they’ll usher us into a meeting where tribal elders speak out against the violence being done to them.

The impact of their story may ultimately be more muffled than it should be, but in these isolated moments you hear their voices, their fury and their despair loud and clear.


Is Killers of the Flower Moon violent? ›

But among the domesticity of Killers of the Flower Moon, there are moments of brutal violence – a stark reminder that what was wrought on the Osage nation – and countless other indigenous communities across America – was mass murder.

What is the movie Killers of the Flower Moon about? ›

Is Killers of the Flower Moon out? ›

Killers of the Flower Moon premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2023 where the film recieved a 9-minute standing ovation. It is scheduled to be released in select theaters on October 6, before a wide release in the United States on October 20, by Paramount Pictures.

Where can I see Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Killers of the Flower Moon - Apple TV+ Press.

How was Anna killed in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Kelsie Morrison was the person that shot her. He and two more people were present during her execution. Kelsie fired Anna Brown in the same moment that Bryan Burkhart, who had gotten her drunk and driven her to the place, held her head.

Who is the main character in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

What is the significance of the title Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Killers of the Flower Moon delves into a string of mostly unsolved murders involving the Osage Indian Nation of Oklahoma in the 1920s. The title comes from an Osage saying that describes the death of blooming April flowers in May, when taller plants crowd them out.

Why is it called Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

The reference is to the month of May when there is a very large moon and larger prairie plants ( such as the spiderwort and black-eyed Susans) begin to overtake and "creep over" the confetti like tiny flowers, like Johnny jump-ups and bluets. These smaller flowers are "killed" or begin to fade.

Why did the author write Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Grann said the impetus for writing “Killers of the Flower Moon” was his own ignorance of the subject matter. Like the Tulsa Race Massacre, which took place around the time that the plots against the Osage Nation were fomenting, the story of the Osage murders was one that had more or less removed from history.

What does the flower moon mean? ›

The Old Farmer's Almanac, which first began publishing the names for the full moons in the 1930s, recorded that some Native American tribes referred to the full Moon in May as the "Flower Moon" because of the flowers blooming across North America, signaling abundance after a cold, hard winter, according to NASA.

Who is the antagonist in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jesse Plemons, Lily Gladstone with Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow as well. Robert De Niro plays the main antagonist, William Hale in Killers Of The Flower Moon. His character builds trust with local Osage Indians only to murder several for their oil-rich land.

What happened to Mollie Burkhart? ›

Mollie Burkhart Cobb died of unrelated causes on June 16, 1937. Her children inherited all of her estate. In the early 1990s, journalist Dennis McAuliffe of The Washington Post investigated the suspicious death of his grandmother, Sybil Beekman Bolton, an Osage with headrights who died in 1925 at age 21.

Who are the characters in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

How many chapters are in the Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

There are 26 chapters in Killers of the Flower Moon. The book is split into three "chronicles," each with a different person in focus: the marked woman, the evidence man, and the reporter.

How many pages are there in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Product information
Publisher‎Doubleday; Illustrated edition (April 18, 2017)
Hardcover352 pages
9 more rows

Who stabbed Rosemary? ›

Answer and Explanation: In the novel Sparkling Cyanide, Rosemary is murdered by Victor Drake and Ruth Lessing.

Who was the nurse killer lady? ›

She committed the murders in her capacity as a State Enrolled Nurse on the hospital's children's ward.
Beverley Allitt
BornBeverley Gail Allitt 4 October 1968 Grantham, Lincolnshire, England, UK
Other namesThe Angel of Death
MotiveAttention due to factitious disorder imposed on another
10 more rows

How did the Osage Indians get rich? ›

Owning the mineral rights meant that the Osage tribe would have to be paid royalties for any oil drilled in Osage County. Oil royalties paid to the Osage people, during the early 20th century, helped to make them one of the wealthiest groups of people in the world.

Who killed Roan in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Hale and his accomplice John Ramsey were convicted for Roan's murder and sentenced to life in prison. Both were paroled, Hale less than 20 years after his conviction.

What happened to Burkhart? ›

He committed suicide shortly after being identified as the prime suspect in the latter murders, and was linked via DNA to the first two murders eight years after his death. Parkland, Washington, U.S.

How many people died in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

The true story behind Leonardo DiCaprio's latest epic Killers of the Flower Moon: How 24 members of oil-rich Osage tribe in 1920s Oklahoma were murdered in plot led by cattle rancher hoping to get his hands on rights to their black gold.

What is the irony in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

The great irony is that tribal leaders chose this land precisely because it was bleak and unfarmable (“a big pile of rocks,” as one chief memorably put it), with nothing to draw white settlers' further interest in Osage territory.

What happened in Chapter 19 of Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

On March 1, 1926, a judge finds that the case cannot be adjudicated in federal court and must be tried at the state level. Hale and Ramsey are going to be released. The two men begin celebrating in the courtroom, but are then approached by Sheriff Freas, who arrests both men under state charges for the bombing murders.

What happened in Chapter 21 of Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

White orders a neurological and psychological examination of Hale which finds that he has “extremely vicious components in his make-up” but no psychosis. Over the years, Hale continues to try and bribe and scheme his way out of prison, confident that “through influence of friends” he will be able to walk free one day.

Were the world's richest people per capita were becoming the world's most murdered? ›

The world's richest people per capita were becoming the world's most murdered.” “Stores gone, post office gone, train gone, school gone, oil gone, boys and girls gone—only thing not gone is graveyard and it git bigger.”

Where did the flower moon come from? ›

According to this almanac, as the full Moon in May the Algonquin tribes of what is now the north-eastern United States called this the Flower Moon for the flowers that are abundant this time of year. Other names include the Corn or Corn Planting Moon. An old English name for this Moon is the Milk Moon.

Who is the narrator Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

About this item
Listening Length9 hours and 4 minutes
AuthorDavid Grann
NarratorWill Patton, Ann Marie Lee, Danny Campbell
7 more rows

What does moonflower mean in love? ›

Love: Moonflowers are often associated with love, especially in the context of romantic love. The flowers' beauty and fragrance are thought to represent the beauty and allure of the beloved. Dreaminess: Moonflowers are also associated with dreaminess and a sense of mystery.

What does a pink moon mean? ›

The Pink Moon falls during spring, so it also deals with themes of rebirth after the winter. As mbg's resident astrologers, the AstroTwins, previously wrote for mbg, "Named for the first pink flowers of spring, use this moon to charge your magical tools outside while connecting with nature."

How does the flower moon affect you? ›

Question: How will the flower moon affect us? Answer: Although the flower moon is in Scorpio, it affects all the other zodiac signs. From addressing deep-lying emotions to taking stock of relationships, it can help in maintaining a balance and unburdening your mind.

Who is the protagonist in the killers? ›

Nick Adams

And for good reason. Nick is the only character in the opening scene to have a first and last name. Because he's the hero of so many other Hemingway tales, any Hemingway readers would immediately recognize him and assume his role as that of protagonist.

Who pardoned Ernest Burkhart? ›

Burkhart and Ramsey also received life sentences, and both were also paroled in 1947. Burkhart was eventually pardoned by Oklahoma Governor Henry Bellmon in 1965.

Who did Mollie Burkhart marry? ›

William K. Hale encouraged his subservient nephew Ernest Burkhart to marry Mollie Kyle, an allotted full-blood Osage. Her mother, Lizzie Q. Kyle, resided with Mollie and Ernest in Fairfax.

What is an Indian head right? ›

A “headright” is the right to receive a quarterly distribution of funds derived from the Osage Mineral Estate. Do only Osages own headrights? No. Indians of other tribes, non-Indians, corporations, churches, and others own headrights today.

Who is Bryan Burkhart? ›

Bryan Burkhart is the Founder and CEO at Worksmith.

Who are the shoun brothers in the Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Two doctors, the brothers James and David Shoun, who cared for Mollie's family, had been summoned to perform an autopsy.

What happened in chapter 20 of Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Morrison, the man who pulled the trigger and killed Anna, is convicted. After the trial, Mollie divorces Ernest, and for the rest of her life is seen to “recoil in horror” at the mere mention of her husband's name. Mollie continues her pursuit of justice, emboldened by the toppling of Hale.

What happened in Chapter 24 of Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Red Corn asks Grann to investigate her father's death and tells him that there were a lot more murders during the Reign of Terror than anyone realizes. With each visit to Oklahoma, Grann encounters more and more suffering and deeper, more painful truths about the Osage's past.

How old is Anna in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Osage Indian victim during the Reign of Terror. Anna Brown as she is known in the book Killers of the Flower Moon, was murdered by Kelcie Morrison at age 36. Her body was found in a ravine by hunters three miles outside of Fairfax, OK.

What year is Killers of the Flower Moon set in? ›

'Killers of the Flower Moon' Premieres at Cannes: First Reaction. Martin Scorsese directed this harrowing and deeply American true-crime drama set in the 1920s.

What was a guardian Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Figuring Osage Indians were unable to handle their own affairs, the federal government instituted a guardian system that unintentionally invited corruption. Court-appointed guardians looted Osage bank accounts. Some became beneficiaries to Osage fortunes, then cashed out by committing murders.

Who was poisoned in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched her entire family be killed in front of her, including her older sister Anna Brown shot, her cousin Charles Whitehorn, and her mother Lizzie Q. Kyle slowly poisoned.

Is the Osage tribe still wealthy? ›

While the Osage people are no longer among the richest people, the effects of the oil industry are still felt today. Many Osages still receive their quarterly royalty payments, known today as headrights.

Who is Mollies husband in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Mollie (played by Indigenous actor Lily Gladstone), who was married to a white man, Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio), successively lost her older sister, Anna (shot in the back of the head), her mother (likely poisoned) and her younger sister (killed along with her husband by a bomb that destroyed their house).

What is an example of corruption in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

Serious forms of corruption overtook the Osage land, which included exploitation through financial guardians, sham marriages, blackmail and extortion, and — ultimately — murder. Grann also explores how American institutions such as the FBI are often founded on corruption.

What happened to the Osage people? ›

In the 19th century, the Osage were forced by the United States to remove from Kansas to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), and the majority of their descendants live in Oklahoma.

How many people were killed in the Osage murders? ›

Estimates vary, but approximately twenty-four Osage Indians died violent or suspicious deaths during the early 1920s. The majority of these crimes occurred in or near Fairfax and were rarely investigated by local authorities; some were never solved.

Who is the Blue Moon serial killer? ›

(WKRG) — A Pensacola murderer, deemed the “Blue Moon Killer,” was once thought to be a “ritualistic” killer. Now, officers know his attacks were much more personal attack. This is the story of Donald Hartung. WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast.

Who is blackie in Killers of the Flower Moon? ›

A notorious outlaw who is released from prison in order to go undercover and aid the bureau in gathering evidence on the Osage killings. Blackie abuses his freedom, though, and robs a bank, kills a police officer, and escapes into the Osage hills before he is at last apprehended again and returned to prison.


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