Reality is often more creative and impressive than reality. Is evidenced by the most recent work by Martin Scorsese, which impressed the Cannes Festival and brought together Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in the same feature, alongside several other stars. Inspired by a bestseller of the same name, Killers of the Flower Moon retells a harrowing and tragic story from 100 years ago, which marks one of the first and most important investigations in a series of murders that took place in Osage County, Oklahoma, in an Indian reservation.
Be careful, here we will talk about the SPOILERS of the film.
In the early 1920s, the Osage Tribe natives were granted legal rights over profits from oil deposits found on their land. The families in white – driven by greed and racism – hatch a complex plot to eliminate all Osage heirs and keep the fortune. At least twenty people died in what has been described as the Reign of Terror, but the book’s author David Grann suggests that hundreds of lives could have been taken because of their ties to oil. In addition to the problem with minorities and the oil issue, the murders were the subject of one of the first cases of the newly created Federal Of Criminal Investigation, the FBI, that identified culprits and brought them to trial, with the conviction of William Hale (Robert De Niro) as the mastermind of the plot.
Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Brendan Fraser, and Jesse Plemons, the great production is already shooting as one of the Oscar 2024 favorites. In the trailer and in the film, we see that at the turn of the 20th century, the discovery of oil sources in the land ceded to the Osage Nation made the native citizens millionaires, attracting white people with an eye on fortune. In the midst of this conflict, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), nephew of the greedy William Hale, falls in love and marries Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), one of the main heiresses of the lands, since her relatives are dying, one by one, for mysterious illnesses, explosions, and murders. Like Romeo and Juliet, their story is determined by tragedy, one that forced a Legal change to stop the killing.
Agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons) is sent to Osage to investigate the deaths of several Osage natives. The first body was that of Anna Brown, executed with a shot in the back of the head, as well as that of her cousin, Charles Whitehorn. Months later, Anna’s sister Minnie and her mother Lizzie would be found dead after becoming suddenly ill from something unidentified. All were from the Osage tribe, native Indians who settled in the region and who, in 1804, thanks to President Thomas Jefferson, who granted land in Oklahoma, where the unsuitability for agriculture would not exactly be a problem for them (or for whites). However, in the agreement, there was a provision that they would also own everything below ground, including oil, gas, coal, and other minerals. When oil was actually discovered in the early 1920s, the real drama began.
The Osage rented the land to Prospectus and became wealthy, and their “head” rights were protected by law and hereditary, that is, they passed automatically between families. In 1923, the tribe raised more than US$ 30 million from oil, something close to US$ 400 million today, an amount that raised the eyes of many people. The American government believed that the Osages were incompetent to manage their finances and appointed guardians to do this for them. William Hale was one of them and hatched a plan bordering on the diabolical to take possession of everything. Just to catch the hint, as long as there were interracial marriages, white husbands and wives would “inherit” their rights as spouses. Do you understand?
Anne Brown, who liked whiskey and was divorced, was the sole owner of a large estate. Her sisters, Minnie, Rita, and Molly, as well as her mother, Lizzie Kyle, were equally wealthy. When Anne and her cousin Charles were found dead, the brief local investigation concluded that the perpetrators were unknown. What was strange was that just a month later, Anne’s sister Minnie died of a strange illness. Lizzie, who was already her late husband’s heir, accumulated the inheritance of her two dead daughters but also passed away because of the same strange illness. So, automatically, Molly and Rita accumulated even more wealth and both were married to white men. Molly (Lily Gladstone) was married to Ernest Buckhart (Leonardo Di Caprio), William Hale’s nephew, and Rita (Janae Collins) was married to Bill Smith (Jason Isbel), who believed that the “disease” was nothing more than poisoning, fearing for Your lives. Bill was right, they were getting various threats and the explosion of a bomb containing 5 gallons of nitroglycerin on their porch proved that the fear was well-founded. Rita died instantly, and Bill days later.
Thereafter, over the next four years, there were at least sixty Osage men and women killed, although more are suspected. At each death, the land was transferred to government-appointed guardians, all-white local lawyers, and businessmen. When a white man, trying to help the Osage, was found dead and stabbed, the FBI stepped in. Director J Edgar Hoover has appointed Tom White (Jesse Plemons) to lead the investigation into the highly suspicious loot in Oklahoma.
Undercover as ranchers, insurance agents, and oil prospectors, the FBI was gathering data that always pointed to William Hale (Robert De Niro), known as the local “King”, having started his fortune raising cattle. Ernest, his nephew, was the husband of Molly Kyle, the last survivor of Anna’s family. Here’s the SPOILER for the movie.
In fact, Ernest didn’t marry Molly for love, as the trailer suggests. He was participating in a scheme designed by William, who wanted the land and was organizing the crimes so that, as we will see at the beginning of Killers of the Flower Moon, Molly would be the only and last heir. When that actually happened, Ernest proceeded to poison his wife so that he could inherit at least half a million dollars a year. What “spoiled” the plan was Molly’s faith, who shared her fear to a priest about what was happening. That priest recommended her not to drink any more alcohol and alerted the FBI. Still, the Hale family managed to drag out the investigations for two years.
Who spilled the beans was Ernest’s cousin, Brian (Scott Shepherd), who told the FBI everything in detail in exchange for a leniency in the sentence. The extent of the crimes has not been fully resolved to this day. William and Ernest were sentenced to life in prison, with Ernest providing information confirming that his uncle was solely responsible for the master plan.
Molly divorced Ernest, and when she died not long after, her children inherited all her assets. William was paroled in 1947 after serving only 20 years of his sentence. The remaining Osage managed to retain their rights and their lands, with Congress changing the law to prohibit non-Osages from inheriting Native head rights, even those with half or more Native American ancestry.
In the film, billed as an “epic Western saga”, Molly and Ernest’s story will be a version of “true love interrupted by betrayal and greed”. Originally, Leonardo DiCaprio was cast as Tom White, but he pressed on and got Ernes, opening up a possibility for Jesse Plemons to join the cast. The real Mollie Burkhart died in 1921, supposedly of tuberculosis, but authorities have always doubted whether the disease was the true cause of death. Unfortunately, it may be that in the end, the conclusion was actually sadder than it is told. Obviously, in view of the warm welcome at Cannes, all that’s being said is Oscar. Does anyone doubt?