12 things you need to know about Killers of the Flower Moon

Black gold leads to white violence in Martin Scorsese’s latest epic: Killers of the Flower Moon, a historical drama that focuses on the racially-motivated Osage County murders of 1920s Oklahoma. The movie’s got all the Scorsese stuff you’d hope for—DiCaprio, De Niro, Thelma Schoonmaker’s ever-incisive editing—but with a devastating perspective on the atrocities faced by Native America.

Here’s our rundown of everything you need to know about this celebrated new western, from the dark history chronicled in the movie to just how long the film might be (our advice: gird your bladder. You won’t want to miss a moment of it).

1. Somehow, it’s Marty’s first ever western

The first genre that comes to mind when one thinks of Hollywood legend Martin Scorsese is, most likely, gangster movies—but his filmography is far more versatile than that, spanning historical dramas, romance, comedies, and one gorgeous family film. That’s what makes it so surprising that Killers of the Flower Moon is basically Marty’s first film in the western genre, set in 1920s Oklahoma. Of course, the guy himself sees a strong connection between gangster baddies and so-called cowboy-hatted heroes: “The gunslingers evolve into the outlaws of the ’30s that the FBI made their name on”, he told Deadline. “The western mythology comes under that heading.”

2. It’s based on a best-selling 2017 novel by journalist David Grann

Time magazine listed Grann’s excoriating text as one of 2017’s top 10 non-fiction novels, celebrating its near-mythic retelling of a string of murders threatening wealthy Indigenous Osage County leaders. Scorsese has said that what he responded to in reading the former New York Times reporter’s work was “the natural order of things…The idea that one could rationalise that, if the Osage are not going to be of any use, if they’re going to be phased out anyway, why don’t we just, you know, help them go?” That bleak, dehumanising rationale is what fuels the true historical savagery we see played out in the director’s thoughtful adaptation.

3. Lily Gladstone stars as wealthy Native American woman Mollie Cobb

Raised on a Blackfeet Nation reservation, Gladstone has appeared in Kelly Reichardt films such as Certain Women and First Cow, but as the lead of Killers of the Flower Moon she’s certain to see her star rise to new levels. She plays real historical figure Mollie Cobb, an Osage Indian who marries white veteran Ernest Burkhart (Leo DiCaprio) only to realise they’re both being manipulated to get into her newly wealthy peoples’ inner circle.

Gladstone was instrumental in shaping the tone and message of Killers of the Flower Moon, saying that the Osage Nation’s input on the script “greatly changed” the film from Scorsese’s original vision. “The work is better when you let the world inform your work”, she explained at this year’s Sundance film fest.

4. The brutal history shown in the film is still not taught in US schools

Until this film’s release, I had no idea that the string of Osage County murders were what led to the creation of the FBI: the violent events began when oil was found on Indigenous territories, and white settlers conspired to marry into the communities in order to kill off powerful elders from within. To make matters all the more dark, the devastating Tulsa massacre of ‘Black Wall Street’ was occurring in the same time period, mere miles away.

With the 100th anniversary of these bleak, under-recognised atrocities now arriving, Killers of the Flower Moon is broadly representing this darkness at the heart of US history at just the right time. Perhaps Scorsese’s film can be a foot in the door to open more minds and memories to the trauma of the Osage murders and the Tulsa race massacre at once.

5. It’s Scorsese’s sixth movie with DiCaprio, and his tenth with De Niro

It’s De Boys! DiBoys? Scorsese has given both of these Oscar-winning lads chance after chance to flaunt their dramatic talents, and they’re certain to pick up a few more noms as WWI veteran Ernest (DiCaprio) and his corrupt cattleman uncle William “King” Hale (De Niro). The pair represent white anxiety and malevolence, reaping the benefits of living alongside their home’s traditional custodians while also violently grappling for their resources, determined to see their race win at any cost.

6. John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser, Jesse Plemons, and Tantoo Cardinal round out the main cast

Originally, DiCaprio was set to play the more heroic role of Bureau Of Investigation (no ‘F’ for ‘Federal’ yet!) agent Tom White, who is historically credited for solving the grisly Osage Murders case. But, keen to avoid any accusations of appearing as a white saviour, Leo let The Power of the Dog star Jesse Plemons take the part in favour of a more complex romantic role.

Tantoo Cardinal appears as the mother of Lily Gladstone’s character, and Lithgow and Fraser will show up for some tense court-room scenes as a prosecutor and Hale’s corrupt attorney respectively. À la his short scene in Taxi Driver, even Marty will make a quick cameo in his own film, as a “radio show producer”.

7. Our critic says the film is “warm, affecting, humorous…but also vile, cruel, and upsetting”

Lucky bugger Rory Doherty got to see Killers of the Flower Moon at Cannes, and his review for Flicks claims that the movie is a masterpiece, leaving a devastating impact through its cast and historicisation. “Scorsese’s film doesn’t suggest it is the most authentic, authoritative cinematic text on Native injustice”, Doherty says: “instead, it acknowledges how tragic it is that no such text has ever been made…All in all, it’s a Martin Scorsese film; in his first Western, America’s greatest exposes some of the darkest rot of frontier enterprise.”

8. It’s a hefty three hours and 26 minutes long—just a tad shorter than The Irishman

In his old age, Scorsese has left behind some of the zippiness and pop-filmmaking of Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street for more elegaic, somber meditations on life, death and man’s purpose. If Silence and The Irishman were up your alley, you’ll wanna hit the bathroom well before your full Killers experience. The film is a mere three minutes quicker than the famously-lengthy The Irishman, so we can already expect some hacky guides on how to break this sensitive work of art into bingeable 15-minute episodes :/

9. Late The Band frontman Robbie Robertson wrote the film’s bluesy score

Scorsese and Robertson have a long, wonderful history together, kicking off with the director’s concert doco The Last Waltz and continuing into countless collaborations, on everything from Raging Bull to this latest feature. After a year-long battle with prostate cancer, Robertson passed at age 80 only this month, meaning the release of his latest, blues-inspired score will be sadly posthumous.

The Band songwriter’s final film score has been described as “old-timey” and “percussive”, interspersed with period-accurate Native American songs and 1920s popular music.

10. It’s the most expensive film ever shot in Oklahoma

Scorsese and Paramount brought a generous budget of $200 million to their filming locations in Osage and Washington County, with the shoot taking place from April to October of 2021. Despite De Niro suffering a leg muscle injury on set, filming was never delayed, and the director has thanked the inhabitants of the location for sharing their space and history. “To be able to tell this story on the land where these events took place is incredibly important and critical to allowing us to portray an accurate depiction of the time and people”, Scorsese praised before production began. “We’re grateful to Apple, the Oklahoma Film and Music Office and The Osage Nation, especially all our Osage consultants and cultural advisors, as we prepare for this shoot.”

11. The movie earned a rapturous nine-minute standing ovation at Cannes

Despite screening almost an hour later than it was scheduled to start, Killers of the Flower Moon killed it at the glitzy French film festival: audiences apparently sprang to their feet for one of the 2023 program’s longest, loudest standing ovations. Variety reports that when Lily Gladstone’s name appeared in the film’s end credits, she seemed to get the most enthusiastic applause of all, and was left wiping back tears at the crowd’s response. Not bad for a bunch of critics and glam Hollywood types who’ve been sitting on their butts for three-and-a-half hours.

12. Scorsese broke our hearts by admitting he’s running out of time to make movies

Marty’s movies can be brutal and violent as hell, but the guy himself is seen as somewhat of a sweet ol’ cinema grandpa in his later years. Maybe it’s because he always dutifully appears in daughter Francesca’s (wonderful) TikToks; maybe it’s just because, at age 80, he’s still putting out vital, challenging new masterpieces.


He’s a certified silly goose. 🥹🤍#CapCut #fyp #trailer #martinscorsese #scorsese #bestdad #bestdadever #sillygoose

♬ Candy (edit) – Robbie Williams

But, as a tearjerking Deadline interview recently proved, the dude is well aware that he’s in the late stage of his career. Asked if he still has “that fire” to keep making new films, Scorsese said this: “Got to. Got to…I’m old. I read stuff. I see things. I want to tell stories, and there’s no more time”

He recalled an anecdote of Akira Kurosawa realising, as he got his first Oscar, that the great Japanese director said he was “‘only now beginning to see the possibility of what cinema could be, and it’s too late.’ He was 83. At the time, I said, ‘what does he mean?’ Now I know what he means.”

This, of course, will not do. Martin cannot die. He just told Pope Francis that he’d be keen to make another movie about Jesus, and we simply gotta see that. Pls Marty.