Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wilkinson
Director: Andrew Heckler
I have no idea what caused Burden to be released two years after it debuted at Sundance, but it really didn’t deserve this type of delay. It’s not a fantastic movie, but looking at what it sets out to accomplish and how it goes about it, Burden is a solid attempt to showcase the damage that racism and bigotry do to a community. While the direction isn’t the strongest of all time, Burden is led by Hedlund’s captivating performance and a narrative that is familiar yet important to all who end up watching it.
The film follows Mike Burden (Hedlund), an orphan who was raised by a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and has grown up to fiercely defend all of their backwards ideologies. When he starts to form a relationship with Judy (Riseborough), a woman who doesn’t agree with the racism of his inner circle, Mike begins to contemplate his way of life and whether or not he can continue living this way. To add to this, Mike consults Reverend David Kennedy (Whitaker), a black church leader, to help Mike change his ways even though the two of them have often butted heads over Mike’s involvement in the KKK. Over the course of 129 minutes, we watch as Mike reflects on his place in life and decides which way to move forward as he approaches the crossroads of his future. Starting off with Hedlund, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a leading role before, but he absolutely made the most of this opportunity. We can feel the internal conflict that he faces in every scene and how the evolution of his morality relates to the relationships he has with others in his life. I know Hedlund has made a career predominantly off being a character and supporting actor, but if he’s given more roles like this in the future, I think we could see him get much more critical acclaim. It’s a compelling movie that tackles true character growth and allows Hedlund to really come into his own. With that in mind, the main issue with the movie is there was very little resolution of past actions or tangible growth towards the end. When you compare Burden to a movie like Skin, you see the potential for a much higher-stakes environment and the ability to see what happens when someone fails to leave their life behind. The journeys may be similar, but the lack of depth and consequences in Burden prevent it from being as good as it should’ve been. Maybe this is why the release got pushed back as far as it did, but if there was a way to fix this problem before Sundance, I’m convinced Burden would’ve been on our screens sooner. Burden isn’t a bad movie, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that given the plot’s foundation that these issues and growth could’ve been addressed in a more comprehensive and thorough way to better capture the true essence of change in the face of resistance.
Overall, for a smaller release, I’m sure those involved were looking for greater things out of Burden, but depending on your available options it’s a respectable movie worth watching. Sure there are better movies in the genre that cover the topic in greater depth, but the performances of Hedlund and Whitaker really drive the movie home and prevent it from ever getting stale. I don’t know what Heckler’s done over the course of his career, but given what he’s shown us in Burden, I’m curious to what he comes up with next.
Overall Score: 5.5/10