Killers Of The Flower Moon's Biggest Challenge Was Not Turning It Into A Mystery

It's been four years since Martin Scorsese's most recent film, "The Irishman," was released. Fortunately, the Oscar-winning filmmaker is set to return this year with "Killers of the Flower Moon." Based on David Grann's nonfiction novel of the same name, the film explores the real-life murders of multiple members of the oil-rich Osage Nation in Oklahoma in the 1920s. The numerous killings were eventually revealed to have been part of a secret plan to try and cut into the profits that members of the Osage Nation were primed to receive after oil was discovered under their land.

Scorsese, for his part, has been developing an adaptation of Grann's book since before he made "The Irishman." While Grann's novel inspired the film, though, Scorsese and "Killers of the Flower Moon" star Leonardo DiCaprio revealed in a recent interview with The New York Times that they struggled to adapt the book, which is structured like a mystery.

According to DiCaprio, the solution to that particular problem came when he and Scorsese realized that keeping the identities of the film's central murderers secret for most of its runtime the same way Grann did in his book would be a mistake. The actor pointed specifically to the guilt of Robert De Niro's William Hale, which he believed would be immediately apparent to audience members.

"It was about an investigation," Dicaprio explained. "And I said to Marty, once you see De Niro as Hale, you're going to go, 'I think I know who did it.' What are we going to unravel?"

Killers of the Flower Moon deviates from its source material in a major way

In David Grann's original novel, the roles that both Robert De Niro's William Hale and his nephew, Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio), play in the murders at the center of its story aren't immediately clear. However, while the team behind "Killers of the Flower Moon" tried to remain faithful to Grann's novel, DiCaprio says that neither he nor Martin Scorsese found those versions of the film satisfying. "I think Marty and I just looked at each other and we felt there was no soul to it," the actor told the New York Times.

In an interview with Deadline, Scorsese added, "The minute the FBI comes in, and you see a character that would be played by Robert De Niro, Bill Hale, you know he's a bad guy. There's no mystery. So, what is it? A police procedural? Who cares!"

The duo found what they were looking for when they landed on a version of the story that makes the involvement of DiCaprio's Ernest apparent early on. The creative decision adds a real-time layer of complexity to Ernest's marriage to Mollie (Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman, in the film. "The biggest challenge became pulling off the trick of not making this a mystery, but exposing Ernest early on for who he is and then watching this very twisted relationship unravel," DiCaprio said. "That wasn't easy and it took years to figure out."

Thankfully, if the first reviews for "Killers of the Flower Moon" coming out of its world premiere last week are any indication, it seems like DiCaprio and Scorsese did, indeed, make the right decision when they chose to take the movie down a different path than its source material.