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Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon Teases Western Conflict

Photo courtesy Apple TV+

David Grann’s epic Western crime drama Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI was quickly tabbed for film adaptation following its 2017 publication, with production beginning in 2019 but COVID-19 pushing the release to 2023. Produced by Paramount Pictures and Apple TV with Martin Scorsese at the helm, Killers of the Floor Moon is based on a true story and is set in northeast Oklahoma, with rising tension between the Osage Native Americans and the western expansion for oil drilling. A string of murders triggers an FBI investigation in the area. With much secrecy behind the project, the the teaser trailer FINALLY has dropped and it was worth the wait!

Mostly show and not tell, this trailer sets the stage and the stakes for the film. Scorsese opens with the visual metaphor of the Osage tribe dancing around oil bursting for the ground, celebrating prosperity on their land which will soon invite challengers. “Move, said the great white father. There are many, so many hungry wolves. Can you find the wolves in this picture?” Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhardt narrates from an Osage book.

A crane shot of the small Oklahoma township reveals a growing field of oil derricks followed by  shots of white settlers departing trains at nearby depot. A POV shot of Lily Gladstone’s Mollie Burkhardt is echoed again at the end. DiCaprio’s Ernest repeats the line “Can you find the wolves in this picture?” A wide shot of a dozen well-off white settlers in a room, in slow-motion and with precise blocking concludes the intense trailer.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 There Will Be Blood showcased the greed of Daniel Plainview in his quest for oil in the turn of the century west. While that film didn’t feature a central conflict over contested native land, aesthetically it matches similar brushes from Scorsese’s style. Like that film, the violence in Killers of the Flower Moon appears to be on the menu in the form of knives, guns, and fire. Vast western landscapes, detailed production designs, and moving camera cinematography are showcased. Scorsese reunites with The Wolf of Wall Street cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto for intriguing and dazzling shots., and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker is cutting the film with him, both creating razor sharp scenes and stitching the epic story into a rumored three-hour-plus runtime.

Leo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon
Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mollie Burkhardt (Lily Gladstone ) highlight the complicated relationships of Killers of the Floor Moon. Photo courtesy Apple TV+.

The casting pairs of DiCaprio and De Niro to a Scorsese film are not exactly news. This is the sixth film DiCaprio has worked with Scorsese and tenth for De Niro. The two veteran actors first appeared together four decades ago in the 1993 film This Boy’s Life. Gladstone is Blackfeet and Nimiipuu heritage, making her billed casting the film appropriate representation. Plemons makes his Scorsese debut, playing the Texas Ranger Tom White. Brendan Fraser also makes an appearance, fresh off his Oscar victory for The Whale.

After six years of wait and hype, we now have a glimpse of what Scorsese’s Killers of a Flower Moon promises. This film reportedly has a budget close to $200 million, a behemoth for a this genre type. AppleTV, Paramount, and even studios owned by Scorsese and DiCaprio have a hand in this production. The longtime auteur stepping into a western crime drama at 80 years old shows that he’s as dedicated to his craft as ever. Overall production attention to detail and intensity is what we the audience expects from the maker of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. With a great film maker, strong cast, and explosive conflict; Flowers of the Killer Moon sets up to be one of the anticipated films of the 2023 Oscar season.

Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese directs Lily Gladstone between scenes of Killers of the Floor Moon. Photo courtesy Apple TV+.

Scorsese casts his two biggest acting muses of old and new. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Ernest Burkhardt, with Robert De Niro cast as William Hale. The film also stars Jesse Plemons, Lily Gladstone, Brendan Fraser, and John Lithgow. It is written by Scorsese and Eric Roth. The film premieres this weekend at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, and in wide release October 20th, 2023.

Written by Seth Lamey

Film Studies graduate from Winona State University. Cinema management experience and multimedia film criticism/analysis work.

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