Sundance 2018 – Burden

Burden follows the true story of Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), a klansmen who in 1996 opens a KKK shop and museum, but then eventually leaves the klan after falling in love with single mother Judy (Andrea Riseborough) and receives help from a Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker) in turning his life around. Andrew Heckler’s directorial debut – a 20 year passion project in the making – is a film about an important and timely topic that is not necessarily well made, but is terrifically acted.

I am a huge fan of Garrett Hedlund. I own 51% controlling stock in him. People have been selling their Garrett Hedlund stock over the years and I’ve just been buying it all up for cheap. I believe he is our next Nic Cage, and that is 10000000% a compliment. I’ll one day write a whole dissertation on it, but let me put it this way for Burden – if Burden was made in the late 90s like Heckler had originally intended, Cage would have definitely played this role. Hedlund, like Cage, is somewhere between leading man and character actor and it’s fantastic to watch.

Hedlund came off a career best turn in last year’s Mudbound, and continues to stretch his talent for southern tales. He adopts a hard southern accent and a limping saunter to physically show you who Mike Burden is. What he does here as Mike is convincingly portray the unending struggle it is to change your life. At no point does he just wake up and decide “oh I was wrong and I love black people now”, it’s a painstaking process for Mike and Hedlund lets you feel it scene to scene in how he interacts with others. There’s nothing harder in life than admitting you’re wrong, that you’ve been living wrong and have hurt others with intent – and that battle is what Hedlund displays.

Andrea Riseborough is always great to watch, and she’s so good here that she keeps you from focusing too much on how terrible the wig she’s wearing is. She and Hedlund have a terrific chemistry, you really understand why she could fall in love with him despite knowing he’s a klansmen, and how her love could change him. There’s a natural benevolence to Forest Whitaker that makes him the perfect choice for Reverend Kennedy. You really feel the internal struggle he goes through as his values are put to the test when he’s confronted with helping his enemy in Mike.

It’s clear Heckler has a love for this story and these characters, he films each scene for the actors. While there’s not much visually happening in Burden to accentuate the themes and characters, Heckler clearly displays a high ability to direct actors. Each performer is giving it their all. So while Heckler has issues that most first time directors do, you can do a lot worse than “well-acted” for your debut. Love is the only thing that can get rid of hate.

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