Roughly two months ago a very early draft of Eric Roth‘s screenplay for Killers of the Flower Moon (dated 2.20.17, or eight weeks before David Grann’s source book was published) turned up on a Reddit screenwriting forum.
Anyway I finally read it this morning and holy moley…if Martin Scorcese had manned up and shot this version of the tale Killers would have been a much more engrossing kettle of fish.
No exaggeration — Roth’s early-bird script is approximately 17 or 18 times better than the film Marty finally made. Because Killers suddenly has a central character you can easily roll with (i.e., FBI guy Tom White, who Leonardo DiCaprio was originally intending to portray) as well as an actual point of view.
White isn’t just the resolute, soft-spoken, voice-of-the-prairie hero of the piece but a decent, honorable lawman with occasional moments of doubt and uncertainty, but finally a dude who stays the course, toughs it out and brings at least a semblance of partial justice to a sprawling and horrific murder saga.
In Marty’s film version White (played by Jesse Plemons) is reduced to a supporting character who appears at the two-hour mark.
Here’s how I put it to a screenwriter pally a couple of hours ago: “My God, what a truly compelling and fascinating film Killers of thge Flower Moon could have been. Hats off to Roth for some wonderful writing, sublime tension, terrific structure. It really lives and breathes!
“And what a great, soft-spoken, drillbit character Tom White is! His laconic, man-of-the-prairie dialogue is so spare and true and eloquent.
“If only John Sturges had directed this screenplay in his prime! Or Oliver Stone in the ’80s or Michael Mann, Chris Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson…Sam Peckinpah even.
“If only Marty and Leo hadn’t lost their nerve…if only they hadn’t been so scared of provoking the wokesters and suffering their ferocious wrath, i.e., “We’re done with white heroes! Only racists-at-heart would tell such a tale! And fuck David Grann!”
“My head was completely turned around by reading this, and Roth wasn’t even afraid of including racist cracker dialogue from time to time. (Brave.) And Mollie Burkhart actually conveys a certain gratitude (i.e., a slight smile) to White at the very end. I don’t know if Lily Gladstone even read this version of the script, but if so she almost certainly would’ve hated it.
“I wish I had read this six or seven years ago. It would have clarified a lot of things. Roth and Scorsese went with a woke version of Grann’s tale, of course, but in the early stages Roth truly did himself proud.”
If you weren’t much of a fan of Killers of the Flower Moon or even if you were, please read this early Roth draft — it’s a revelation.