Martin Scorsese is Finally Making a Western

As distinct as Martin Scorsese’s style is, his filmography reveals a comfort with genre that may surprise the casual fan. Disregarding the gangster pics for which he’s most well-known, Scorsese has traversed comedy, romance, horror, costume drama, documentary, and biopic without skipping a beat. But – and this is surprising considering his list of favorite movies – the one thing we haven’t seen Scorsese do is a western.

Early reports of Scorsese’s latest film confirm that’s about to change. With DiCaprio and DeNiro in tow, the GoodFellas director is set to embark on Killers of the Flower Moon, an adaptation of David Grann’s 2017 book. Grann’s acclaimed non-fiction account details a string of murders orchestrated by a cattleman named William Hale in the early 1920s, who organized the killings against members of the Osage Nation, a Native American tribe who reside mostly in the midwest, for oil that was discovered on their land.

The official description from Penguin Random House reveals:

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. One of her relatives was shot. Another was poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more Osage were dying under mysterious circumstances, and many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered.

As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case, and the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including a Native American agent who infiltrated the region, and together with the Osage began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.

It’s been reported that Scorsese’s adaptation – which is filming in Tulsa, Oklahoma from a script by Forrest Gump writer Eric Roth – will have Robert De Niro occupying the William Hale role, with DiCaprio’s role still unconfirmed. It’s worth noting that DiCaprio himself has played J. Edgar Hoover in the past, as the lead of Clint Eastwood’s 2011 biopic. It would be interesting to see DiCaprio reprise his role with another director, but it’s more likely that DiCaprio will play Tom White, the Texas Ranger who helped Hoover crack the case.

In a recent interview with Cahiers du Cinema, Scorsese explained his motivations behind making the film. A portion of the interview reported on by Tulsa World reveals:

“We think it’s a Western. It happened in 1921, 1922, in Oklahoma. They are certainly cowboys, but they have cars, and also horses. The film mainly talks about Osages, an Indian tribe with which we gave a horrible territory, but which they loved because they said to themselves that the whites would never be interested in it. Then we discovered oil there and for about 10 years, the Osages became the people richest in the world, per capita. Then as with the Yukon and the mining regions of Colorado, the vultures disembark, the white man, the European arrives, and all that is lost. … There, the underworld had such control over everything that you were more likely to go to jail for killing a dog than killing an Indian.”

He added: “It’s so interesting to think about the mentality that leads us to that. 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 other cultures, through two world wars. And which is therefore timeless, I think. Finally, this is the film we are going to try to make.”

When Killers of the Flower Moon is released in 2021, it will be the fifth adaptation of David Grann’s work in just five years. The acclaimed journalist has seen his stories on-screen quite a bit recently, with James Gray’s The Lost City of Z and David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun garnering particularly positive responses upon release. He’s probably got another hit on his hands now that Scorsese’s involved, and the director’s love of classic westerns will almost certainly have an influence on this new project.

Killers of the Flower Moon is scheduled for a 2021 release.


Images: Penguin Random House, Netflix, Warner Bros. 
Featured Image2006 Peabody Awards via Flickr (cropped)

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