Review: Burden (Sundance)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: A Klansman (Garrett Hedlund) tries to leave his violent past behind when he falls in love with a single mother (Andrea Riseborough), only to find an unlikely ally in an African-American pastor (Forest Whitaker) and his family.

REVIEW: BURDEN tackles a subject no mainstream company would touch with a ten-foot-pole – the redemption of a die-hard KKK member. You can’t blame the thinking that would suggest audiences willing to empathize with someone like this would be in short-supply, but like it or not, people like the ones depicted in this true story are real. Hearts need to be changed if we’re ever going to move past the blight of racism.

Which is why BURDEN’s premise, that hate can be cured with love, is so affecting, even if it takes the patience of a man who’s almost literally a saint, Forest Whitaker’s preacher, to make a dent in a think-headed racist like Burden, as played by Garrett Hedlund. While perhaps too corny for the more sophisticated audience they seem to be chasing with a Sundance premiere, if studios are serious about putting out Christian fare through their divisions like Affirm, BURDEN would be a good pick-up. While it’s far from dogmatic, it’s probably the most honest Christian film to come along in sometime, although that audience probably won’t be able to take the realistic brutality they depict- with those films typically emphasizing watered-down fantasy over gritty reality.

It’s a strong part for Hedlund, who deemphasizes his leading-man looks by playing the surly, seedy Burden, who nonetheless finds a sense of compassion awoken inside him by the love of Riseborough’s single mom character. While based on fact, Riseborough, while excellent, seems a little too smart to even knowingly let an open racist like Burden enter her life, with him shown as living with her long before he ever leaves the Klan behind. This aspect of the relationship is hard to take, especially with her never displaying any such tendencies herself

BURDEN is more successful as depicting the ignorant lifestyle Burden comes from, with Tom Wilkinson especially dynamic as the pseudo father-figure, who opens a KKK museum in his small town. He hides behind dumb slogans such as “history not hate” while simultaneously using constant racial epithets and threatening the black population that opposes him – with his strongest ire reserved for Whitaker’s compassionate preacher.

BURDEN maybe does dwell a little too long in the Klan life, with the redemption arc only kicking-in about 2/3’s of the way into the film. As many other critics have already noted, the story of this black preacher and his family taking in a Klansman is way more interesting – making you almost wish writer-director Andrew Heckler had switched protagonists. Whitaker is great as conveying the man’s empathy and compassion, with the performance only marred by the odd choice to shave his hairline to make him look as if he’s balding, something which looks phony. Whitaker doesn’t need a gimmick like that.

BURDEN’s probably too mixed a bag to really get the kind of festival buzz something like MUDBOUND did, but it’s well-intentioned and successful enough that it should find a receptive audience. It’s an intriguing tale that’s fairly well-told, and the performances more than pick up the slack whenever it veers a little too sharply into corny territory.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.