Paul Schrader dissed Martin Scorsese’s ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ script

I watched so many movies over the holidays and one of my biggest disappointments was Killers of the Flower Moon. While I respect the fact that Martin Scorsese made the film he wanted to make and Marty is still a master, I was really disappointed with the script and the framing of this tragic story. Marty cowrote the script with Eric Roth, and those two men clearly believed that Robert DeNiro’s William “King” Hale and Leo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart were the most fascinating and watchable characters in the whole history of these crimes against the Osage. While I understand why the (newly formed) FBI investigation was not the main focus, it felt like Lily Gladstone’s Mollie was underserved with the script, all so Marty could tell the story he wanted to tell: The Real Goodfellas of Osage County. Paul Schrader sort of agrees with me.

Paul Schrader wrote Martin Scorsese‘s “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” and it appears he would’ve handled things differently had he been the one to pen “Killers of the Flower Moon.” In a recent interview with France’s Le Monde, Schrader called “Flower Moon” a “good movie” but one that could’ve been better had DiCaprio been playing the FBI agent investigating the Osage murders.

“Marty compares me to a Flemish miniaturist. He would be more the type who paints Renaissance frescoes,” Schrader said. “Give him $200 million, a good film will inevitably come out of it. That said, I would have preferred Leonardo DiCaprio to play the role of the cop in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ rather than the role of the idiot. Spending three-and-a-half hours in the company of an idiot is a long time.”

Scorsese originally intended for DiCaprio to play FBI agent Tom White in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The director spent two years working on a “Flower Moon” script from the perspective of White, who took the lead on investigating a string of murders among the Osage Nation in the 1920s. The filmmaker told The Irish Times earlier this year that it was DiCaprio who personally called him requesting a script change. The actor wanted to play Ernest Burkhart instead.

“Myself and [my co-screenwriter] Eric Roth talked about telling the story from the point of view of the bureau agents coming in to investigate,” Scorsese said. “After two years of working on the script, Leo came to me and asked, ‘Where is the heart of this story?’ I had had meetings and dinners with the Osage, and I thought, ‘Well, there’s the story.’ The real story, we felt, was not necessarily coming from the outside, with the bureau, but rather from the inside, from Oklahoma.”

Changing the “Flower Moon” script paid off for Scorsese, who has received acclaim and awards attention for the film. The New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review named “Flower Moon” the best movie of the year, although Schrader would appear to prefer Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” instead. He called it “the best, most important film of this century.”

“If you see one film in cinemas this year it should be ‘Oppenheimer,’” Schrader said over the summer. “I’m not a Nolan groupie but this one blows the door off the hinges.”

[From Variety]

I mean, I agree that Oppenheimer is a better film at every level – cleaner storytelling, a master director at full flight, great performances across the board, and it’s simply more interesting to watch a film about a tortured genius. I think Schrader’s criticism is dead-on: “Spending three-and-a-half hours in the company of an idiot is a long time.” It’s true. I’ll cite a specific example with a minor spoiler: when Mollie and Ernest’s daughter dies of whooping cough, the focus was on King Hale and Ernest’s reactions and not Mollie’s. Instead of actually putting more focus on the Osage, Scorsese made a film detailing the CRIMES against the Osage. Instead of seeing it through the FBI investigation (as Scorsese’s original script seemed to do), we see the crimes unfold through the perspective of King Hale and Ernest Burkhart for the most part.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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28 Responses to “Paul Schrader dissed Martin Scorsese’s ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ script”

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  1. SueBarbri33 says:

    Almost everything was wrong with this movie. And I didn’t like Oppenheimer either. I think movies have gotten a lot worse over the last few years–or maybe I’m just sour on the entire experience. I’m a big fan of Casino and GoodFellas and The Irishman, so I was curious to see how Scorsese would bring his skills to this story. I fell asleep in the middle of it. Horrible all the way around.

    • TikiChica says:

      I loved The Irishman. “Tony told the old man, to tell me, to tell you, “It’s what it is.””

  2. Fuzzy Crocodile says:

    Oh that makes me disappointed.

    I so enjoyed the book.

    Guess I’ll cross this one off my list to watch.

    • TikiChica says:

      I watched the film and enjoyed it, because it was a story I had never heard before, but I am now reading the book and liking it more than the film.

    • SAS says:

      Yes, I really enjoyed the book but everything I read about the film made it sound quite different in tone and focus so I never got around to seeing it. Sounds like a real missed opportunity.

    • Becks1 says:

      I really liked the book too and when I first heard there was a movie with DiCaprio, I assumed he would portray the FBI agent. I’ll still watch the movie but I’ve been more meh about it since realizing he’s Burkhart and that its 3.5 hours long, lol.

      ETA also by changing the POV so significantly it is a huge departure from the book. The subtitle of the book is literally “the Osage murders and the birth of the FBI.” So there is a huge focus on the FBI – its not just about the Osage murders, but the investigation into them. But it seems the movie changed the focus entirely, and if Scorsese wanted to do that, he should have changed it more to the Osage.

      • Concern Fae says:

        One thing about the book. The author did a new version intended for high schools. I had started it before, but work got too busy and never finished it. Saw the YA version at the library and read it in a weekend.

        If the book seems daunting, the shorter version is available. The full version is probably better, but read what you have time for.

  3. SarahCS says:

    I read a review that discussed the viewpoint of the movie and that was enough to put me off.

    It will take a lot to get me to watch something that is 3+ hours long (especially at the cinema) and this was not it.

  4. ML says:

    I’m glad they let Lily Gladstone shine on the press circuit and hope that she’s able to use her too-small part in this movie to get more work in the future.

  5. paintybox says:

    I agree on the poor choice of focus on characters – it was about DeNiro and DiCaprio and the conspiracy. It was sympathetic to the Osages but treated them mostly like background figures. I literally hated Scorsese’s New Yorkiness in the film. He allowed De Niro to go all Italian-American thug (he started out OK then it all went downhill) which was really wrong for a non-Italian in Oklahoma, and then there were Scorsese’s theatrical extravagances which didn’t fit the story or the location. He’s a brilliant filmmaker but he wanted to express and say everything, everywhere, all at once (and for sure didn’t want to stop, ugh) rather than let this story tell itself.

  6. sherry says:

    Your comments are bang-on. I couldn’t even make it through to the end.

    • MF says:

      I couldn’t either, and I’m a movie lover with a film degree! I was so bored I had to turn this one off after the first hour. Also, Schrader was right that it’s too annoying to spend so much time focusing on a protagonist who’s an idiot. The film would’ve been better if they had centered Molly (or any other character, really).

  7. Brassy Rebel says:

    Imagine you’re making a movie about one of the worst crimes committed against native people in American history. And instead of centering the Osage people who are the victims of this criminal conspiracy, you decide to center the white criminals. Changing the pov from the FBI agent to DeNiro’s character and “the idiot” just changed from one white character to two other white characters. How did Scorcese see that as an improvement? Honestly, I don’t think Scorcese can read the room anymore. He still thinks, no matter the subject matter, that the criminals should always be centered.

    • Coconut says:

      Exactly!!! Why not make the movie from Mollie’s perspective?? Why make yet another white men centered film? (Cause that’s all Marty knows how to do?) Definitely not seeing this.

      • Brassy Rebel says:

        White men who make films do tend to center the white male characters. That’s why it’s so important to have more women and POC as directors. I know in this male centered world more experienced female actors fight for their characters. Unfortunately, Lily Gladstone had neither the experience nor the clout to do this. It should never come down to this.

    • AmB says:

      @Brassy Rebel – it reads to me like he felt he needed DiCaprio to be happy more than he needed to be faithful to his original script. ???

    • SueBarbri33 says:

      The framing was wrong, and it was poorly told. We understand that these men have ruined the Osage world, but MS never bothers to show us anything about the world of the Osage. They are considered from a distance, yet he also somehow wants us to feel the tragedy of these events at the end of the story. It just doesn’t work. MS makes Vegas and Wall Street and NYC look more exciting than they really are, but he somehow makes Oklahoma look boring and colorless. I don’t know what he was trying to do with this film except collect money. It wasn’t as bad as whatever Aaron Sorkin was doing with Being the Ricardos, but it was almost as much of a waste.

  8. Chaine says:

    Am I the only one who thinks Scorsese is overrated and dated? The only movies of his that I have enjoyed have been Goodfellas and Wolf of Wall Street. Everything else has been kind of meh or I didn’t even finish watching them. They’re all a very early 1970s guy take and I recall suffering in college when I had a lot of male friends who were rabid fanboys.

    • alexc says:

      No way is he overrated. He definitely mines a very specific vein of American toxic masculinity that may not appeal to everyone but he is a master at his craft and has made great movies in other genres like After Hours, Kundun, The Last Waltz, Hugo, Rolling Thunder tour, Alice Doesn’t Liver Here Anymore, etc.

    • AmB says:

      Maybe not overrated for some of his work, but like anyone with a long career he’s had his ups and downs. But he’s a freaking 81 year old white American man and he comes from that point of view, which isn’t how the majority of people see the world any more.

  9. JaneS says:

    Not even Scorsese could get me to watch a 3+ hour film.
    Of course the film centers on DeNiro and DiCaprio.
    These 3 working together are always going to be the focus, the ads, the box office were built around it.

    Hard.Pass from me and also pass on Oppenheimer.

  10. JaneS says:

    JMO, but Scorsese, DeNiro, Pacino should all retire.
    DeNiro and Pacino specifically are turning out trash movies unworthy of their talents, have been for years.
    Pacino in a terrible Adam Sandler movie was the end for me.
    DeNiro has been taking everything offered to him for 5 years at least to $$ his bank account.
    Both of them Fathering children in their ’80’s, Retire from public life.

    Scorsese, be a shame if KotFM was his last film.

    I wonder what Leo will do as he ages. 50 at this point. Can Leo still open a huge $$ film on his rep alone for a theater release?
    KotFM, Oppenheimer and Barbie all released to streaming very quickly, I thought.

    • Becks1 says:

      I think its just becoming the new normal, for movies to release to streaming quickly but you have to pay to rent or buy. I think Barbie just in the past two weeks went to Max (?) and it opened in July. I don’t think Oppenheimer is streaming anywhere for free yet.

  11. Veronica S. says:

    Two friends saw it and felt the casting was perfectly fine. The framing was the issue. The female character’s story needed to be front and center, not the men. Good luck convincing any man in Hollywood it isn’t all about them, though lol.

  12. manta says:

    Schrader, the man lamenting cancel culture cost Depp, Spacey or Rudin, poor lambs,their careers ? The man who criticized Scorsese for taking the platform road, having issue with the movie when still filming? He may rise some valid points, but sorry, wrong messenger for me.

  13. R says:

    Lily Gladstone actually adressed this in her Variety speech. Indigenious people have a very very complicated relationship with the FBI and had Leo been playing the FBI agent, it would have been playing into the white saviour trope. I havent seen the movie ( never in the mood to see oppressed minority being brutalised) but lots of movie critics have pointed out that the movie is a good movie calling out toxic white masculinity, but not a good representation of Indigenious people and Osage tribe in particular.

  14. Elsa says:

    I thought the movie was amazing and I wasn’t bored for a moment.

  15. BQM says:

    This is one that could really have been a miniseries. Both the Osage perspective as well as it being the case that transformed the fbi could’ve been dual track fascinating.

    I mean these criminals killed a lot of people. One was a lawyer (?) who was suspicious and had heard from members of the Osage. He went to the ‘big city’ to report the shady stuff. They followed him, bashed his head in and threw him off a train to make it look like an accident. They really felt confident in their ability to get away with everything. Just brazen. Just so many stories, so many people, over the years.