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Strong opening for Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon" on murders of Native Americans

This image released by Apple TV+ shows Lily Gladstone, left, and Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from "Killers of the Flower Moon."   -  
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Melinda Sue Gordon/AP


206-minute 'Killers of the Flower Moon" is the latest movie by filmmaker Martin Scorcese.

It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Robert De Niro.

The historical crime drama is about a string of murders against the Osage nation-a native people from the United States of Amera- in the early 1920s. 

The movie released on October 20 in the US. It debuted with $23 million, marking the third best opening for the 80-year-old Scorsese, following “Shutter Island” ($41 million in 2010) and “The Departed” ($26.9 million in 2006).

The lifelong exploration through cinema of the 80-year-old Italian-American director has seemingly only grown deeper and more self-examining with time.

"There is no limit. The limit is in yourself. And so, [...] the lights and the camera and that sort of thing, these are just tools," he said.

"How much further can you push or explore what, who you are and maybe if you have something to say that other people might be interested in over periods of time, not just for the newsworthy aspects of - which is not bad, but can be of interest for only a year or so. You know what I'm saying?"

When Akira Kurosawa was given an honorary Academy Award in 1990, the then 80-year-old Japanese filmmaker of “Seven Samurai” and “Ikiru,” in his brief, humble speech, said he hadn’t yet grasped the full essence of cinema.

It struck Scorsese, then in post-production on “Goodfellas,” as a curious thing for such a master filmmaker to say. It wasn’t until Scorsese also turned 80 that he began to comprehend Kurosawa's words. 

"Historic" representation of Native Americans

Scorsese's latest, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” about the killing of Osage Nation members for their oil-rich land, is in many ways far outside his own experience. But as a story of trust and betrayal — the film is centered on the loving yet treacherous relationship between Mollie Brown (Lily Gladstone), a member of a larger Osage family, and Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a WWI veteran who comes to work for his corrupt uncle (Robert De Niro) — it’s a profoundly personal film that maps some of the themes of Scorsese’s gangster films onto American history.

The movie might be called Scorsese's first Western. But while developing Grann’s book, which chronicles the Osage murders and the birth of the FBI, Scorsese came to the realization that centering the film on federal investigator Tom White was a familiar a type of Western.

Scorsese, after conversations with Leonardo DiCaprio, pivoted to the story of Ernest and Mollie and a perspective closer to Osage Nation. Consultations with the tribe continued and expanded to include accurately capturing language, traditional clothing and customs.

“It’s historical that Indigenous Peoples can tell their story at this level. That’s never happened before as far as I know,” says Geoffrey Standing Bear, Principal Chief of Osage Nation. “It took somebody who could know that we’ve been betrayed for hundreds of years. He wrote a story about betrayal of trust.”

The film, which cost at least $200 million to make, is the largest production yet from Apple Studios. The streamer partnered with Paramount Pictures to release Scorsese’s adaptation of David Grann’s bestseller in 3,628 theaters, with plans to later stream it on a not-yet-announced date on Apple TV+.

Though Scorsese’s latest opus, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Robert De Niro, will have a hard road to reaching profitability, it’s a successful launch for a 206-minute-long adult-skewing drama – a type of movie that, outside “Oppenheimer,” has struggled mightily at the box office in recent years.

“Killer of the Flower Moon” also marks the best wide-release debut for a film from a streaming company. 

Scorsese considers “Killers of the Flower Moon” “an internal spectacle." The Oklahoma-set film, is adapted from journalist David Grann’s 2017 bestseller investigation.

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