Though relatively unknown outside of indie circles, Lily Gladstone is about to have a massive year thanks to her performance in Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese’s epic crime drama that made its Cannes Film Festival premiere on May 20th to a nine-minute standing ovation.
The terrible but true story — which expands upon the non-fiction book of the same name — focuses on a string of murders in the Osage Nation in the 1920s, after the Native American tribe discovered oil on their land and experienced a massive influx of wealth. While the book centers on the recently formed FBI’s involvement in the murder investigations, Scorsese opted to rewrite the script (co-written with Eric Roth) to focus not on the murders themselves, but to use personal relationships to tell the story of the exploitation of the Osage people by the greedy white interlopers who sought to take everything from them.
This is where Gladstone comes in. Her character, Mollie, marries DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart, an undeniable gold digger acting on the motivations of his racist uncle (Robert De Niro). Though she’s up against two titans of American film, Gladstone more than holds her own, and emerging as a newly minted star and an almost certain Oscar contender. The reviews make this clear: her Mollie is “the movie’s richest character,” and she’s “the undisputed MVP of Killers” whose talents make a viewer think they’re “seeing Dietrich one second, De Havilland the next.”
Gladstone isn’t some kind of overnight success story. Raised in Montana and of Blackfeet and Nimíipuu heritage, she first came to the attention of film lovers and filmmakers alike with her performance in American auteur Kelly Reichardt’s 2016 film, Certain Women. Playing a lonely rancher who falls for a night school teacher, Gladstone was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. She acted in Reichardt’s next film, First Cow, albeit in a smaller role, and has made appearances on Billions, Room 104, and Reservation Dogs.
That said, her role in Killers of the Flower Moon marks an exciting new chapter in the actress’ career. Not only does she step forward as a bonafide leading lady in a movie that boasts multiple Hollywood legends, she does so a part of a critically underrepresented, undermined group in this nation’s history and culture. During a press conference at Cannes, Gladstone emphasized how the people making Killers “cared about telling a story that pierces the veil of what society tells us we’re supposed to care about and not.” She explained, “We’re speaking of the 1920s Osage community. We’re talking about Black Wall Street and Tulsa. We’re talking about a lot in our film. Why the hell does the world not know about these things? Our communities always have. It’s so central to everything about how we understand our place in the world.”
At nearly three-and-a-half hours, with an estimated budget of $200 million, Killers of the Flower Moon does that centering on a massive scale. Though Gladstone is just one part of the Martin Scorsese machine, she’s certainly a major talent to keep an eye on⸺for this awards season and beyond. Read our full coverage of the film and its Cannes premiere here.