To date Martin Scorsese has never made a Western. Oh sure, he called Gangs of New York “a Western on the east coast” back in the day, but that doesn’t really count. This is surprising since despite being sometimes inaccurately described as a “gangster movie director,” there are few filmmakers as versatile and prolific in the styles and genres they’ve dabbled in from dark comedy to biography, and period piece melodrama to (controversial) biblical epic. He even made a family film that celebrated film history once—yet he’s never fully embraced one of the most iconic genres in film history.
That is apparently about to change in his next movie Killers of the Flower Moon. Scorsese’s follow-up to his much Oscar-nominated (and ultimately Oscar-neglected) The Irishman, this 1920s-set film will be the first time he combines on screen his two favorite leading man muses, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. It is also about the relationship between Native Americans and a vindictive American government that is based on a non-fiction book by David Grann, whose other biographical works inspired the likes of The Lost City of Z and The Old Man & the Gun.
Now we’re getting a good idea about why the material has so captured the attention of a legendary auteur like Scorsese. While speaking with Premiere magazine (via Collider), Scorsese said the following:
“We think it’s a Western. It happened in 1921-1922 in Oklahoma. There are certainly cowboys, but they have cars and also horses. The film is mainly about the Osage, an Indian tribe that was given horrible territory, which they loved they loved because they said to themselves that the Whites would never be interested in it. Then we discovered oil there and, for about ten years, the Osage became the richest people in the world, per capita. Then, as with the Yukon and the Colorado mining regions, the vultures disembark, the White man, the European arrives, and all was lost. There, the underworld had such control over everything that you were more likely to go to jail for killing a dog than for killing an Indian.
… It’s so interesting to think about the mentality that leads us to this. The history of civilization goes back to Mesopotamia. The Hittites are invaded by another people, they disappear, and later, it is said that they have been assimilated or, rather, absorbed. It is fascinating to see this mentality, which is reproduced in our cultures through two world wars. And which is therefore timeless, I think.”
Indeed, the film includes De Niro playing William Hale, a local authority in Oklahoma who goes out of his way to make sure that those who wish to take oil-rich lands away from American Indians are able to do so with relative impunity.
It’s certainly a grim setup for a movie, but a fairly necessary one in this day and age where we see legal authority abused and used in order to enrichen corrupting influences. It also promises a chance for Scorsese to embrace the iconography of filmmakers he’s long admired, such as John Ford and Howard Hawks, but in a world where cars are used as often as horses.
Count us doubly intrigued for Killers of the Flower Moon, which is set-up at Paramount Pictures and is eying a 2020 start date and 2021 release.
David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of both the Critics Choice Association and the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.