In the final third of the film, Tom White (Jesse Plemons), a Texas Ranger-turned-FBI agent, arrives in Osage County to investigate the crimes, but he remains a peripheral figure. The heart of the story is not the mystery itself—we have our suspicions early on, and they’re quickly confirmed—but rather the thorny relationship between Ernest and Mollie, who appear to both love and fear each other. As he begins speaking the Osage language, dressing like them, and becomes embedded in their community, you see glimmers of his inner torment intertwined with his greed and sense of injustice. She, in turn, identifies him as a gold digger straight off the bat, but is charmed by him nonetheless. Then, when she weakens under his care, she clings to him, and it’s unclear whether she’s in denial, somehow trying to guilt him into changing his behavior, or entirely oblivious to the fact that he’s harming her.
DiCaprio plays with these ambiguities masterfully, capturing Ernest’s conniving nature as well as his haplessness. De Niro, too, is fascinating as a cultural interloper who seems to see no contradiction between his appreciation for the Osage community and its traditions, and his desire to eliminate them. Both veterans are, however, overshadowed by Lily Gladstone. The Native American actor, perhaps best known for her captivating turn in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, is a revelation, bringing a powerful, commanding stillness, serenity and, later, profound anguish to Mollie. She is quiet and watchful, her eyes and the almost imperceptible furrow of her brow speaking volumes even during her prolonged silences. When she does speak, everyone and everything else fades into the background. Come 2024, an Oscar nomination—if not a win—is surely guaranteed.
And it’s unlikely to be the only statuette the film walks away with: it looks poised to be a best-picture frontrunner, and should also be rewarded for its sweeping cinematography, lavish production design, and meticulous costuming, all of which helps to create a world that feels textured and real; a world that you want to spend time in. And that’s the thing: Despite its weighty subject matter, Killers of the Flower Moon can also be great fun. When we first meet the Osage, montages of their privileged lifestyle flash across the screen, accompanied by a rollicking soundtrack. We see some having their portraits taken, looking somber and regal; others shooing away the white photographers who are out to make a buck; and later, a group of Osage women gossiping happily about their lovers. Most of all, it’s a sheer joy to see so many Native American actors, many of them Osage themselves, living out full lives on screen before tragedy engulfs them. (Cara Jade Myers as a renegade, gun-toting flapper is a particular highlight.)