Over the last couple months, David Grann’s 2017 bestseller Killers of the Flower Moon has re-entered the book charts. There’s a good reason for that: There’s a high-profile movie adaptation en route. It’s got flashy pedigree. Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons star. No less than Martin Scorsese directed. And it’s really, really long. But how faithful is the film to the book, especially considering it’s non-fiction? Turns out there’s at least one big difference.
In a recent Time cover story that profiled Scorsese, the legendary filmmaker said that the initial script for the film closely followed the structure of the book. The first section introduces a spate of mysterious deaths and murders of members of Oklahoma’s Osage tribe, who’ve come into quite a bit of wealth after oil was discovered on their land. But from there on out, the majority of the focus is on Tom White, a former Texas Marshal enlisted by the federal government to root out the killer(s). If the book even has a protagonist, the closest to it is White.
But White is not the protagonist of the film. That’s because Scorsese and team effectively inverted the book, turning White into a supporting player and two supporting players from the book into the protagonists of the film. Those would be Mollie (Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman who’s watched as family members died off, and Ernest (DiCaprio), her husband, who may be involved in the killings.
Making White the main character while punting Mollie and other Osage characters to the margins seemed wrong to Scorsese. “After a certain point, I realized I was making a movie about all the white guys,” he said to Time. “Meaning I was taking the approach from the outside in, which concerned me.”
DiCaprio agreed. “It just didn’t feel like it got to the heart of it,” DiCaprio told British Vogue about the original script. “We weren’t immersed in the Osage story.” (DiCaprio was even initially supposed to play White. The role instead went to Plemons.)
The decision to change Flower Moon came relatively early into pre-production, as DiCaprio stated: “There was this tiny, small scene between Mollie and Ernest that provoked such emotion in us at the reading, and we just started to penetrate into what that relationship was, because it was so twisted and bizarre and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”
So if you’ve read Gramm’s book, prepared to still be surprised by what’s on-screen.
Killers of the Flower Moon hits theaters on October 20.