Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Dead Man's Burden

First-time feature writer-director Jared Moshe's intense drama of secrets and lies dragged out into the blazing sun of post-Civil War New Mexico charts the downfall of the McCurry family through the uneasy relationship of its last living members, siblings Martha and Wade.

May 3, 2013

-By Maitland McDonagh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1376528-Dead_Mans_Burden_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

It begins as it ends, with killing: First, Martha McCurry Kirkland (Clare Bowen) shoots her father in cold blood, then Wade (Barlow Jacobs), en route to the McCurry homestead for the first time since he left for the war, kills the Ainsworth brothers (Adam O'Byrne and Travis Hammer), whose persistent questioning eventually reveals that Wade chose to betray his Southern roots and fight for the Union. In all, the stage is set for an awkward homecoming: Wade doesn't even want to read the letter from his estranged father that greets him when he runs across the local sheriff. But that's the thing about blood, the sheriff counsels: It's the tie that binds, whether you like it or not.

So Wade continues home, to a greeting pitched somewhere between shock and dismay: Martha and her solid, if high-strung, husband Heck (David Call) both thought he was killed in the war, like the rest of his brothers. And Pa is dead, says Martha, without stating the circumstances. And so begins a long, slow circle around the unspoken truths that could have been written by Ibsen, if every declaration weren't punctuated by fussing chickens, foraging goats, snorting horses and wind rustling through the sad patch of wheat planted next to the low, cramped McCurry house.

Longtime producer turned director Jared Moshe's influences are clear and impeccable: Sergio Leone, late-career Clint Eastwood, Anthony Mann, Fredric Remington, John Ford (the most memorable shot from The Searchers—a view onto the vast, empty outdoors from within a small, dark cabin—is referenced early and, it must be said, to good effect) and even Georgia O'Keefe, by way of the New Mexico landscape she painted for much of her career. And his dedication to physical authenticity is admirable—the credits include a historical consultant, and the costume and production design suggest sepia-toned vintage photos more than modern-day glosses on the bad old days.

But all that said, Dead Man's Burden is oddly lifeless, despite the clearly devoted efforts of the cast and crew: It's admirable without being particularly engaging, so respectful of its cinematic predecessors that its own voice is strangled. I want to see what Moshe does next, but can't imagine watching Dead Man's Burden again.


Film Review: Dead Man's Burden

First-time feature writer-director Jared Moshe's intense drama of secrets and lies dragged out into the blazing sun of post-Civil War New Mexico charts the downfall of the McCurry family through the uneasy relationship of its last living members, siblings Martha and Wade.

May 3, 2013

-By Maitland McDonagh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1376528-Dead_Mans_Burden_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

It begins as it ends, with killing: First, Martha McCurry Kirkland (Clare Bowen) shoots her father in cold blood, then Wade (Barlow Jacobs), en route to the McCurry homestead for the first time since he left for the war, kills the Ainsworth brothers (Adam O'Byrne and Travis Hammer), whose persistent questioning eventually reveals that Wade chose to betray his Southern roots and fight for the Union. In all, the stage is set for an awkward homecoming: Wade doesn't even want to read the letter from his estranged father that greets him when he runs across the local sheriff. But that's the thing about blood, the sheriff counsels: It's the tie that binds, whether you like it or not.

So Wade continues home, to a greeting pitched somewhere between shock and dismay: Martha and her solid, if high-strung, husband Heck (David Call) both thought he was killed in the war, like the rest of his brothers. And Pa is dead, says Martha, without stating the circumstances. And so begins a long, slow circle around the unspoken truths that could have been written by Ibsen, if every declaration weren't punctuated by fussing chickens, foraging goats, snorting horses and wind rustling through the sad patch of wheat planted next to the low, cramped McCurry house.

Longtime producer turned director Jared Moshe's influences are clear and impeccable: Sergio Leone, late-career Clint Eastwood, Anthony Mann, Fredric Remington, John Ford (the most memorable shot from The Searchers—a view onto the vast, empty outdoors from within a small, dark cabin—is referenced early and, it must be said, to good effect) and even Georgia O'Keefe, by way of the New Mexico landscape she painted for much of her career. And his dedication to physical authenticity is admirable—the credits include a historical consultant, and the costume and production design suggest sepia-toned vintage photos more than modern-day glosses on the bad old days.

But all that said, Dead Man's Burden is oddly lifeless, despite the clearly devoted efforts of the cast and crew: It's admirable without being particularly engaging, so respectful of its cinematic predecessors that its own voice is strangled. I want to see what Moshe does next, but can't imagine watching Dead Man's Burden again.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

The Devils Violinist
Film Review: The Devil's Violinist

The latest classical-music legend to have his life trashed–again—by a cheaply sensationalistic movie, this famed fiddler deserved way better. More »

Backstreet Boys
Film Review: Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of

The ’90s boy band dusts itself off for a self-congratulatory, and not especially revelatory, career retrospective on the occasion of their 20th anniversary tour. More »

Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts 2015
Film Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Documentary

The long shadow and in-your-face reality of mortality shadows nearly all the entries in this year’s powerful, draining Oscar-nominated documentary short films program. More »

Film Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Live- Action

This year’s program of Oscar-nominated live-action short films is longer on character and short on cute. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Project Almanac
Film Review: Project Almanac

Saying this underbaked Chronicle knockoff is meant for teenagers is an insult to the intelligence of teenagers everywhere. More »

The Wedding Ringer
Film Review: The Wedding Ringer

Intermittently amusing bro-comedy trifle that confirms Kevin Hart's talent, though not his taste in material. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here