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Killers of the Flower Moon

Martin Scorsese’s audacious masterpiece makes its long-awaited arrival on Apple TV+

When Killers of the Flower Moon premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2023, Leonardo DiCaprio knew he was experiencing something unique. “It felt like a very important moment,” he said the day after, at a press conference. “Especially how the Osage community embraced us telling this story, gave us the trust in our adaptation of the [book]. To have them here with us, side by side, it was a beautiful moment.”

Killers of the Flower Moon on Apple TV+. Pictured: Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone as Ernest and Mollie Burkhart.
Apple TV+

An adaptation of David Grann’s 2017 tome about the real-life murders of Osage Nation members at the hands of the white Americans who were after their wealth has been a long time coming. While director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Eric Roth initially approached this story through the eyes of the newly established FBI, once the two met with members of Osage Nation it became clear that the point of entry was elsewhere. “What I learned from meeting with them is that a lot of the white guys there, particularly Bill Hale [Robert De Niro], they were good friends [of the tribe members], you know? People just didn’t believe that Bill would be capable of such things,” says Scorsese. “We started reworking the script and it became gritty. Instead of from the outside, coming in and finding out whodunit, in reality it’s, ‘Who didn’t do it?’ It’s a story of complicity.”

Killers of the Flower Moon on Apple TV+. Pictured: Talee Redcorn is Osage tribal leader Non-Hon-Zhin-Ga.
Apple TV+

DiCaprio, a longtime collaborator of Scorsese’s, had initially signed on to play Bureau of Investigation agent Tom White, who leads the probe into the mysterious deaths of Osage Nation members. Hearing about the relationship between First World War veteran Ernest Burkhart, who was part of Hale’s insidious plan, and Ernest’s Osage wife Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone) changed the course for both film and actor. “Margie [Burkhart, descendant of Ernest Burkhart] said, ‘One has to remember that Ernest loved Mollie, and Mollie loved Ernest. It’s a love story,’” explains Scorsese. “Ultimately, the script shifted that way, and that’s when Leo decided to play Ernest.”

Killers of the Flower Moon on Apple TV+. Pictured: Canadian Indigenous actress Tantoo Cardinal plays Lizzie Q, mother of Mollie Burkhart.
Apple TV+

The story begins when Ernest returns home from the war and quickly becomes roped into his uncle’s scheme to steal the Osage members’ wealth through any means possible. De Niro admits he had a harder-than-usual time slipping into the character who charms the Osage, while simultaneously plotting their murders. “Well, I don’t understand my character,” he says. “He has to be charming, he has to win people over, he has to do things to get them — I think part of it with him, I guess, is sincere. It’s just the other part where he’s betraying them . . . There’s a feeling of entitlement. I guess you could say we became a lot more aware of it after George Floyd, with systemic racism. That’s what it is: the banality of evil is what we have to look out for.”

Killers of the Flower Moon on Apple TV+. Pictured: Jesse Plemons is FBI agent Tom White, tasked with solving the murders of the Osage.
Apple TV+

Although told largely through the eyes of the perpetrators, the filmmakers all found it crucial to relate this story in a way that felt respectful to the Osage. “We were talking to the community, trying to hear the real stories and trying to incorporate the truth as best we possibly could,” says DiCaprio. “No matter how people feel about the film, I know we tried our very best to pay respects to the real stories and incorporate that into the narrative.” Gladstone believes the work they did goes beyond anthropology. “We’re artists. We’re storytellers. We reach into humanity,” says the Indigenous actor, who in January received a Golden Globe for her performance. “Mollie was a trick in holding true to not only the way she’s perceived in the book, but the legacy that she’s left in the community. Mollie is an example of somebody who . . . I almost don’t want to talk about an acting process. When it comes to her, I just had to be there and receive what the community told me she needed to be, what my own family has told me about my great-grandmother, Lily, who would’ve been Mollie’s contemporary. I’m not sure it was me finding it so much as it finding me.”

Killers of the Flower Moon on Apple TV+. Pictured: Lily Gladstone, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Apple TV+

By filming on-location in Oklahoma, native New Yorker Scorsese found that the surroundings helped frame the story. “Those prairies are quite something. They open your mind and your heart,” he says. “Then I began to realize that the land itself could be sinister. In other words, you’re in a place like this, and you don’t see people for miles. This is a place where you have the law, but the law isn’t working that way. You can make the law work for you if you’re smart enough. I wanted to capture, ultimately, the very nature of the virus or the cancer that creates this sense of a kind of easygoing genocide.” 

Killers of the Flower Moon on Apple TV+. Pictured: Prairie of the Osage Nation.
Apple TV+

As the three-and-a-half-hour runtime attests, it is an ambitious endeavour, but in the eyes of his collaborators Scorsese is still the master of storytelling. “Marty’s perseverance and his ferocity in wanting to tell the truth about these stories, no matter how ugly, no matter how bizarre, no matter how uncomfortable, is just unparalleled,” says DiCaprio. “He’s been able to define himself as the singular director of our time. And he’s continuing to make these incredible movies that tell important stories, like this film. Like all of you, I’m just constantly in awe of his ability to continue telling the truth the way he does.”

Killers of the Flower Moon, streaming on Apple TV+

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