Sunday 26 September 2021

Movie Review: Burden (2018)

A racism drama, Burden explores a small community plagued by white supremacists and one man's personal struggle to build a different life.

The setting is the small town of Laurens, South Carolina in 1996. Local Klu Klux Klan leader Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson) opens The Redneck Shop as a museum to celebrate white supremacy. His protege is Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), an army veteran abandoned as a child and raised by Tom. Black Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker) is the head of the local Baptist Church and resists the supremacists with a message of love.

The Redneck Shop heightens tensions between the Black community and Klan members, including incidents of racial abuse and violence. In the meantime Mike meets single mom Judy (Angela Riseborough) and they start a relationship, with Mike providing a father figure to Judy's young son Franklin. But Judy cannot tolerate being in a relationship with a Klan member, and asks Mike to make a choice, leading to grim consequences.

Based on a true story, Burden ventures into forgotten small town America bypassed by education, employment and economic prospects, where the white population refer to themselves as white trash. Writer and director Andrew Heckler creates a working class milieu devoid of hope and ambition, with the KKK's Tom Griffin and Reverend Kennedy engaged in an ongoing battle for a community's soul. Emotions are always close to the surface and Burden is never subtle, mirroring Laurens as a town stuck between a past that never left and a future that never arrived.

Here a man like Griffin can hold sway over all businesses and the police, and is free to openly practice his virulent form of hatred. He is a master at poisoning hearts and minds at a young age, then wields financial influence to exert continued control. Tom Wilkinson combines cold with smiley, oozing a pure representation of menace. In the opposite corner Forest Whitaker juggles faith with pragmatism as the Baptist reverend Kennedy, his family's patience running thin as he defies naked hate with gestures of kindness.

Caught in the middle is Mike Burden, and Heckler crafts a forceful arc for a simple man confronting deeply instilled demons, helped by internal fortitude and external support. Barely educated, functionally raised by the Klan and physically damaged during his army service, he is trusted enough by Tom to hold the lease to The Redneck Shop. But Burden's soul awakens once subjected to influences exerted purposefully by Judy and innocently by young Franklin and his Black friend. Garrett Hedlund conveys Burden's fatigue as he questions all he was raised to believe, just as his gaunt frame wearily navigates odd angles caused by army injuries. 

Burden offers a spark of hope but also clear-eyed realism. One man does stumble upon a moment of reckoning, but a detestable movement remains deeply rooted.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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