Burden - B-
Rated R, 129 minutes
The new drama "Burden" from director and writer Andrew Heckler, based on a true story, provides a familiar yet compelling portrait of racial tensions in the South as well as a touching redemption story. While well-acted and certainly timely, its narrative and direction lack focus.
An orphan named Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) raised within the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina, is persuaded to leave by his girlfriend Judy (Andrea Risenborough). When the local Klan, led by Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson) seeks him out for vengeance, a black congregation led by Reverend David Kennedy (Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker) take him, his girlfriend and her son in.
"Burden" provides some insight into the power of the KKK in the South and how difficult it can be for someone - anyone really - to walk away from it and not be affected by it in some way. On that note, its story of redemption, forgiveness and love, while nothing new, does ring true in a few, affecting scenes, even if Heckler, a newcomer behind the camera, has trouble fully realizing its power. The narrative plods along too much, particularly in its second and third acts, but leaving on a satisfying, cathartic note.
At its heart, "Burden's" redemption story is superbly portrayed by its cast, who rises above the flaws in Heckler's script and direction. Hedlund ("Mudbound") is especially affecting as Burden, a real South Carolina man who walked away from the Klan after falling in love with Judy ("Birdman's" Risenborough, also excellent here) and her son, who taught him about acceptance of others unlike him. Whitaker and Wilkinson, on opposing sides of Mike's ideals, both deliver powerful performances, particularly Whitaker, as the soft-spoken but powerful, idealistic minister who faces issues of his own when he brings Mike and Judy in.
"Burden" runs too long and Heckler could've tightened up the third act much more, filling it with unnecessary scenes and dialogue, but it's still satisfying and cathartic, and the scene in which Mike is baptized in the river, a familiar one that's been done many times before, is still very touching. It can't erase all the racial injustice over the years, but it's a big step toward much-needed reconciliation.