Redemption is real.



Forest Whitaker 


The celebrated, controversial director D.W. Griffith is often dubbed ‘the father of film’ for employing a wide array of technical innovations in 1915’s The Birth of the Nation that quite literally became the language of film as we know it today. Close-ups, fades, tracking shots, flashbacks and crosscutting are among the long list of cinematic achievements Griffith is credited with inventing or refining. In addition to his legacy as “the teacher of us all” as Charlie Chaplin referred to him, Griffith’s Civil War epic presents a difficult, subjective and often racist vision of American history that, amongst other things, exalts the Ku Klux Klan. Based on the novel The Clansman by Thomas Dixon, the film is a highly effective work of propaganda and is frequently cited as a driving force in the Klan’s revitalization. In his book American Racist: The Life and Films of Thomas Dixon, former Film Review contributor Anthony Slide calls The Birth of the Nation, “the most controversial film ever made in the United States". The poster of that controversial 1915 silent epic can fittingly be seen on the wall of the ‘Redneck shop’ in writer-director Andrew Heckler’s Burden.


Basing his film on a true story, Burden bears witness to the surprising events that unfolded in Laurens, South Carolina in 1996. A divided town faces further conflict when a former movie theatre becomes the home of the first KKK museum. Reverend David Kennedy (Forest Whitaker) of New Beginning Baptist Church leads the opposition while struggling to maintain the peace. When repo man Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), who was raised by the museum’s founder, falls for Judy (Andrea Riseborough), he faces the difficult decision of choosing between the family he knows and the family he’s trying to build.     


The true story in some ways works against the film, as the facts themselves feel like Hollywood invention. For those unfamiliar, the historical footage at the end of the film, from a 1997 ABC Primetime News Special, demonstrates how impressively the cast captured their counterparts. Hedlund takes his characterization right to the edge, but his sensitive portrayal of an emotionally wounded man caught in a moral dilemma is both captivating and earnest. Andrea Riseborough is a true chameleon and an underappreciated talent, the grounding force of the film. Forest Whitaker settles easily into a role that feels tailor-made to his talents. Although told primarily from Burden’s perspective, there are some welcome key scenes that allow Whitaker to bring dimension to the Reverend’s plight.


Although Burden plays its cards too readily (and often with a heavy hand), the intention and true events overcome the shortcomings here. The irony in many of the real names alone is quite something, from the titular Mike Burden, to the Echo movie theater and New Beginnings Baptist Church. Having premiered at Sundance way back in 2018, where it won the US Dramatic Audience Award, the film is finally bringing its ‘love wins’ message to audiences. In staying true to unlikely facts, it’s hard not to champion a film that speaks to important issues, telling the stories of real-life superheroes. This is an active story that continues to unfold, with its players still very active in transforming their community. After viewing the film, be sure to visit  www.rehabhate.com




Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wilkinson, Tess Harper, Usher Raymond, Neva Howell, Crystal R. Fox, Dexter Darden.


Dir Andrew Heckler, Pro Robbie Brenner and Bill Kenwright, Screenplay Andrew Heckler, Ph Jeremy Rouse, Pro Des Stephanie Hass, Ed Julie Monroe and Saar Klein, Music Dickon Hinchliffe, Costumes Anette Cseri.


Bill Kenwright Films/The Fyzz Facility/Unburdened Entertainment-101 Studios.

129 mins. USA. 2018. US Rel: 21 January 2020. Cert. R.