After years of anticipation, Martin Scorsese’s long awaited “Killers of the Flower Moon” finally premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday. The film, which tells the story of the Reign of Terror that saw a number of wealthy Osage Nation members murdered in the 1920s, had been a passion project of Scorsese’s for years before he began filming in 2021. Production was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but there were also significant creative changes that stalled the project.
Scorsese and his co-writer Eric Roth initially envisioned the film as a procedural that followed the FBI investigation into the murders. But the creative team soon realized that the movie needed to place the Osage Nation front and center.
Speaking to the press following the film’s Cannes premiere, Scorsese — flanked by his cast members Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone — recalled the lengthy development process and the moment that he knew the script had to be reworked.
“We touched upon it after having myself and Eric Roth and all of us together trying to get the story expressed from the point of view of the Bureau of Investigation coming in,” Scorsese said. “And I said ‘I think the audience is ahead of us. They know it’s not a whodunnit, it’s who didn’t do it.”
Scorsese explained that DiCaprio was eventually slated to play FBI agent Tom White, the role that eventually went to Jesse Plemons. But both DiCaprio and Scorsese soon realized that the human story of the way the murders impacted the Osage people was more interesting than the procedural aspects of the book.
“At one point, after two years of working on the script, Leo came to me. And he was going to play Tom White, that Jesse plays, and said to me ‘where’s the heart of this story? And I had had some meetings with the Osage,” he said. “And I learned a lot about them in those three hours. I learned about the people that settled, and the stories. They’re all related to each other, and there’s still relations and there’s still issues and so-and-so is in love… and it goes on like that. And I said ‘there’s the story.’
Once they settled on a new perspective, Scorsese says the decision to bring Gladstone’s Mollie Burkhart into the foreground and cast DiCaprio as her villainous husband Ernest was a natural one.
“The story is in the character that the least is written about,” he said. “Ernest. And of course, that’s what Leo wanted to do. He said let’s try to find where Ernest is and let’s create Ernest as a template of that tragedy of love and trust and betrayal of the Indigenous people.”