Dead Man’s Burden is a fine western full of mood with emotionally complex story and I’d be game for more new film makers to take a stab at the genre.
I really enjoy a good western. I know they used to be a staple of cinema for years, and even into the 70’s Clint Eastwood gave us some classics. But there are less than there used to be, for sure. And the ones we do have are likely because Eastwood gave us The Unforgiven in 1992 and revitalized the genre. But we see even less of small, independent westerns. Based on Dead Man’s Burden, I’d like to see more people take a chance on this genre.
As the people of this country still lick their wounds from the Civil War, a father is shot down on the open range. The eldest brother, thought dead in the war, returns to the family homestead to reunite with his sister, who has decided with her husband, to sell the land. Each with a secret, they form a family reunion that is tense, to say the least.
Dead Man’s Burden feels much like a classic western, with its’ gorgeous landscapes, and quiet moments. Much of the film is, indeed, quiet, tense, moody, and all about character and story. And thankfully, these are nicely crafted here. And the intensity burns slow until the heat can no longer be contained and is released in a flurry of events that I found satisfying to the narrative, and to myself as the viewer. On top of that, it offered a last scene that surprised and served a second helping of satisfaction. It’s like a good meal at a western movie buffet.
A good cast here of character actors you mostly don’t recognize, but work to the benefit of this film. It lets me really focus on the characters and story without thinking, “oh, look, it’s Tom Cruise in a western”. Oh, man, could you imagine him in a western? Wow, he’d stand out like a, like, well, Tom Cruise in a western. Yikes. So, thankfully we have a great cast here that makes the most of their time on screen. Barlow Jacobs and Clare Bowen play the siblings Wade McCurry and Martha Kirkland, respectively. At first I thought Jacobs seemed a little short on range here. But as I think about it, so did Clint Eastwood. And here, Jacobs’ character is a man just returning from the Civil War, from holding a secret, and surviving in the old West where armed bandits are around any given corner. His cool, even demeanor is a part of that character. And it pays off later as we see his character arc progress in the film to a conclusion with impact.
David Call plays Heck Kirkland, husband to Martha, with a past of his own for others to contend with. Joseph Lyle Taylor plays E. J. Lane, a mining company businessman looking to buy the McCurry land at Martha and Heck’s request. And Richard Riehle, a familiar and excellent character actor as Three Penny Hank, an old friend of Wade and Martha’s father. He adds that little veteran touch to this film, while blending in and doing fine work. There are a number of other great character actors here that round out this good cast.
For a minute I may have felt Dead Man’s Burden slowed down a little too much for me in the middle, it’s 93 minutes seemed to stretch, but it was barely more than a minute. When the emotional comlexities arise, I found myself involved, and writer/director Jared Moshe’s story really is an absorbing one, and rather fitting for the western genre. I can see this story in various genres, but in my head they all come off kinda cheesy. As a western, it works almost to a mythological level. And set in the New Mexico frontier, well, the locations couldn’t be better suited. It’s as scenic as could be adn the cinematography is beautiful.
Dead Man’s Burden is a fine western full of mood with emotionally complex story and I’d be game for more new film makers to take a stab at the genre. This one shows that there are people out there with the chops to do it right. If you’re a fan of the western, you might want to check this one out. A strong three and a half kittenhands here.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, finding this film no burden to watch.