Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ Accent Is Controversial

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Happy Thursday, my fellow cinephiles: The long-awaited trailer for Martin Scorsese’s next movie, Killers of the Flower Moon, has arrived. Apple has barely whetted our appetites for previews of the film over the last 24 months, treating us only to a slow-trickling set of still photos. Some of us have that one image of stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone seated uncomfortably at a table, the only still Apple treated us to for an eternity, seared into our brains.

But now we get to see actual footage from the film. Better yet, we get to hear it—which means it’s time for us to dissect the new accent DiCaprio is donning this time. If you’re a true connoisseur of good content, you know that DiCaprio has a proclivity to do all kinds of voices on-screen. It’s gotten to the point where I hardly remember what his natural accent is.

But while DiCaprio’s always having fun trying on different dialects, and I’ve always had fun listening to him do it, not everyone is on my page.

Take the early reaction to Killers of the Flower Moon, where DiCaprio plays a Southerner in the 1920s. The Oklahoma-set biopic stars the Academy Award winner as Ernest Burkhart, who gets caught up in a spate of serial killings that all target local members of the Osage tribe. Tightening his connection to the mysterious crimes is the fact that his wife, Mollie (Gladstone), is herself an Osage. The film follows the pair’s involvement in the murder ring, which consists of an imposing crew of rich, local white men. The cast is a veritable murderers’ row—ha ha!—with Robert DeNiro, Jesse Plemons, and Brendan Fraser rounding out the cast of potential good or bad guys.

The trailer is beautiful, full of muted browns amid lush greens, men punching each other in the face, and houses burning down: All the stuff that hypes us up for a new Scorsee. (His last one, 2019’s The Irishman, received 10 Oscar nods.) But my favorite part of the trailer is hearing DiCaprio’s drawl, as he reads from a story about the Osage off-screen. “The Oh-sage took their name from Missourah and Oh-sage Rivers,” he reads, placing the inflection on all the wrong syllables to my coastal elite ears. “‘Move,’ said the great. [Pause.] White. [Pause.] Father.” Then comes the lines that the trailer uses as a closing refrain: Can you find? The Wolves? In this pic-shure?”

Masterful actor as he is, DiCaprio manages to slowly draw out what is probably a fairly short paragraph for nearly two minutes. This gives me just enough time to become utterly obsessed with his take on Burkhart: Slow and steady does, indeed, win the race, when it comes to both reading and impersonating a Southerner. I could listen to DiCaprio say “Can you find The Wolves? In this pic-shure?” on a loop, transfixed by his sleepy lilting tone.

I am not alone in this love. Many of the reactions to the trailer online delight in Leo’s “weird little Southern accent,” and noting that it ain’t a Leo-Marty joint without the actor doing a hyper-stylized voice.

But lo, there are some haters in our midsts, questioning the authenticity (or enjoyment factor) of DiCaprio’s Okie accent.

This is far from the first time that his vocal work has been called “grating” or outright “bad”: DiCaprio received mixed reviews for his performance in 2007’s Blood Diamond, when he improperly tried out a South African/West Indian accent for his Zimbabwean character. His Bostonian vocal tones in Shutter Island and The Departed also generated some scorn, but do you know anyone from Boston who doesn’t sound like a cartoon character?

Maybe this is Scorsese’s fault for making his actors do tough accents in the first place. Let’s just appreciate that he’s come a long way from his strange Irish-American accent in Gangs of New York and whatever he was doing in The Aviator.

Killers of the Flower Moon premieres May 20 at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, before heading to theaters October 6. It will later stream on Apple TV+.

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