Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Movie Review: Dead Man's Burden

Dead Man`s Burden
Directed by: Jared Moshe.
Written by: Jared Moshe.
Starring: Barlow Jacobs (Wade McCurry), Clare Bowen (Martha Kirkland), David Call (Heck Kirkland), Joseph Lyle Taylor (E.J. Lane), Richard Riehle (Three Penny Hank), Jerry Clarke (Sheriff Deacon), Adam O'Byrne (Archie Ainsworth), Travis Hammer (Ben Ainsworth), Luce Rains (Joe McCurry), William Sterchi (WC Claymore).

Jared Moshe’s Western Dead Man’s Burden has a killer opening and an even better ending. Those are often the two areas where movies screw up the most – either by lulling you to sleep with too much exposition at the beginning, or tacking on an unsatisfying conclusion at the end. But Moshe nails both. The problem with Dead Man’s Burden in the middle hour of this 90 minute movie – that’s a dead zone that pretty much sinks the entire movie.

The movie stars Wade McCurry as Barlow Jacobs, who left his Southern home years before during the Civil War, and was disowned by his father (the movie thinks the reason behind this disowning is some sort of big secret – but you’ll probably guess it, like I did, inside of a minute). He fought in the War, became a Deputy after it, but has received a letter from his dying father telling him to come home. His father is dead by the time he gets there – as are his two brothers – killed during the war. The only surviving family member is Martha (Clare Bowen), who along with her conniving husband Heck (David Call) wants to sell the land to a mining company – representing by E.J. Lane (Joseph Lyle Taylor). The old man would never sell, but Martha and Heck want to make a new life for themselves in San Francisco – and if Wade doesn’t screw it up, they just may do that.

Dead Man’s Burden is a low budget movie – a very low budget movie actually, and you can see that in certain respects. I don’t think I can recall seeing any of the actors – except Richard Riehle – in a movie before (although I probably have). Jacobs in particular isn’t quite up to the task of playing Wade. Wade is the strong, silent type – a staple in the Western genre – but Jacobs doesn’t have much screen presence here. Bowen has plenty of spunk as Martha – but never really hits any shades of grey – and she’s laying the accent on a little too thick. In short, the actors, at times, seem more like kids playing dress-up than delivering realistic performances.

And that is a shame, because much of the movie is quite good. The low budget production design works very well – they film feels authentic, at least in the setting. And then there is the beginning and the end of the movie, which are both great. Of course, both involving gun fights – but not the typical ballet of bullets, galloping horses, etc. you remember from many Westerns. They gunfights are short, sweet, brutal and bloody – and they pack a wallop. After the opening scenes, I couldn’t wait to find out where the movie was going – and then I sat there fairly bored until the closing 15 minutes or so – which is also great.

The problem is the middle. It drags – on and on – without much to hang onto. I’ve already complained about the performances, but even they may not have killed the movie had the story been better. But it isn’t – Moshe, who also wrote the screenplay, doesn’t try to do anything new with the genre. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except here, it does make for a deadly dull sit – especially since the “dark secrets” the movie promises are easy to guess from the outset. We spend most of the movie waiting for the characters to catch up to us.

It’s a shame that people don’t make more Westerns these days. The genre is still solid and dependable – even if we get more fun entertainments like 3:10 to Yuma or Appaloosa and fewer masterworks like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. So I admire Moshe for trying to make a traditional Western – I just wish he made a better one.

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