6th July 2020 (UK VOD Premiere)
When a museum celebrating the Ku Klux Klan opens in a South Carolina town, the idealistic Reverend Kennedy strives to keep the peace even as he urges the group's Grand Dragon to disavow his racist past.
Andrea Riseborough, Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Tom Wilkinson
It was interesting to learn that Burden premiered way back in 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival and then seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth for 2 years. Just taking a glance at the poster or trailer, with the high-name talent involved, one would expect to see it being pushed for a general release. Or a limited one at the very least. But no, here we are in 2020 stuck with a low key VOD release. Whilst I don’t think the film itself is particularly strong, I find it surprising that it never reached theatres now that hot topic dramas are rather fashionable. So fashionable in fact that they can tilt into insincerity. Burden thankfully avoids that but can’t escape other mundanities.
Despite winning Sundance’s audience award it failed to be sold to any distributors back in 2018. Perhaps due to the hard-sell nature of a white supremacist redemption story? But that’s something Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri managed to achieve with great success and recognition, so perhaps it simply fell through the cracks. That or the decreasing reliance streaming services are placing on the acquisition business, instead favouring to make their own films now. Which is a whole other story but one that has seen Netflix’s level of quality deplete dramatically.
But is Burden worth seeking out? Well, it depends on what you’re after. It’s a decent enough racial drama that’ll hold your attention. But being based on a local story of a small South Carolina town that opened a KKK museum, and not something of huge national or international importance, I was expecting a much more intimate, emotion-driven film than I got. It does steer clear of feeling like a visual history lesson, unlike many biopics, and tries to crack the tough exterior of the Klansmen it portrays. But ultimately the mumbling delinquent that is our protagonist (Garrett Hedlund: Unbroken, Mudbound) was unable to engage me.
It obviously takes a certain amount of skill and care to flesh out characters with deplorable ideologies, but it’s certainly possible and often leads to startling results (Schindlers List, American Psycho, American History X). Unfortunately, that skill or care isn’t present in Burden, which is especially irritating when interview footage used in the credits shows the real man on which the film is based to be charismatic and endearing. Hedlund puts in the effort to add nuance and he clearly has buried himself into the role, but I found the direction he took the character to be misguided for the bite the film needed. He feels like a racist side character from a different film, unjustly getting all the screentime in a prequel story. So when the crux of Burden relies on you caring about Hedlund’s redemption, it hasn’t got much of a leg to stand on.
Thankfully the same can’t be said of Forest Whitaker (Black Panther, Arrival) who’s character begins as a somewhat typical “black preacher” role before being developed into much more. As he begins to help Hedlund (who’s thinking about quitting the KKK) he shows himself to be an incredibly selfless individual due to his religious beliefs and I wish more had been made of the relationship between these polar opposite people, and the struggle on Whitakers family after he decides to help his “enemy”. The most interesting elements of Burden always involve Whitaker but they mostly appear during the final third of the film, where it’s too late to salvage Burden from being an average experience.
Despite personally not connecting to the film in any meaningful way, I do see some worth in Burden. Even if it’s only to be deemed “important” over entertaining. It’s a film I think could have found an audience if it were released theatrically and I believe many people may find it engaging. If you’re particularly susceptible to dramas involving racial tension, especially, there may be a lot here to enjoy. But it lacks the power of the genre’s best and ultimately falls short of remembrance.
Forest Whitaker is always great
Particular scenes show the films true potential
A protagonist that's dull and uninteresting
Somewhat simplistic and artless