Jesse Plemons and Robert De Niro in Killers of the Flower Moon
(Paramount Pictures/Apple TV+)

Let’s Unpack the FBI Presence in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

While they come in as a “hero” in the movie, the FBI presence in Killers of the Flower Moon is both frustrating and exciting at the same time.

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This turn in the movie is frustrating in the sense that it shouldn’t take white men (for the most part) to come in and “save the day” to stop the killings of the Osage people. And equally frustrating given the fact that when this story is told, it’s often centered on the FBI—not the horrific actions of Ernest Burkhart and William King Hale or the trauma inflicted on the Osage people—as it was one of the bureau’s first major cases and a defining part of the agency’s history. The killings of the Osage people were not noted down in history to shame Ernest Burkhart and King Hale or draw attention to the atrocities, but rather to celebrate what the FBI did. And that’s and issue.

What Killers of the Flower Moon does with the FBI is bring them in as a sort of balance beam, showing competent men to highlight how juvenile men like Burkhart and Hale are. The real turn in the film comes when the Bureau of Investigation comes to town and is introduced in the form of Tom White (Jesse Plemons). Again, the story itself is often tied to the start of the FBI as we know it but what Killers of the Flower Moon does is show us how the Osage Nation needed the help of the federal government and how it took one woman’s plea for them to finally listen to her.

Still, highlighting the FBI as some sort of “savior” to the Osage people isn’t a good look. Hundreds of Osage people had to die before the government got involved but men like Tom White (played here by a widely beloved actor) get to be depicted as being innocent in their lack of involvement because, as he says in the film, he was just assigned to the case the week before.

While the FBI’s role in the movie is akin to other entities that use government bodies as a sort of crutch, the FBI’s placement in Killers of the Flower Moon does highlight a bigger issue.

The FBI is not the “good guys”

In a twist that Scorsese has mastered throughout his films, the FBI portion proves to be one of the most interesting parts of the movie as a whole, mostly because it’s so satisfying just to see how all these men have come to Fairfax to do their jobs and do them well. These men aren’t abusing their power or doing anything wrong, White and his team are just trying to find out who is killing the Osage people and are not taking no for an answer. King and the men of Osage who hide the deaths are trying to keep answers from the FBI and it really highlights the lengths these white men will go to take what they (falsely) think is theirs.

What’s so fascinating about Scorsese’s use of the FBI in Killers of the Flower Moon comes down to how these men were so much smarter than King and his band of misfits who thought they had their entire crime ring figured out. But for all the men and the nonsense and murder and pain they bring with them, the movie belongs to Lily Gladstone’s Mollie. So even though the turn of the movie is down to the involvement of the FBI, and the film does highlight that the American obsession with the FBI began with what they did in Oklahoma, it’s entirely clear throughout that this is Mollie’s story and that bringing in these outsiders is a last, desperate resort.

This arguably could have been done with less emphasis on the FBI as a saving grace of the Osage people but having the Osage people themselves calling out the FBI for not being there sooner and having hundreds of deaths on their hands does show just how little the government cared until Mollie went out of her way to do something.

(featured image: Paramount Pictures/Apple TV+)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her current obsession is Glen Powell's dog, Brisket. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.