Movie Review: 'Dead Man's Burden' -- 2.5 stars

Clare Bowen in "Dead Man's Burden."

Clare Bowen in "Dead Man's Burden." (Credit: Clare Bowen in "Dead Man's Burden.")

Dead Man’s Burden
2.5 stars
Directed by Jared Moshe
Starring Barlow Jacobs, Clare Bowen, David Call
Not Rated
Playing at Village East

Jared Moshe’s “Dead Man’s Burden” belongs to the brutal school of Westerns, that minimalist strain of filmmaking in which the frontier’s vast emptiness mirrors the brutality of the soul. It ignores the grand Western myths, instead opting for an uncompromising bleakness.

The characters are perpetually on edge, mistrustful of even their closest companions and fearful of the exterior threats looming throughout the New Mexico Territory in the years following the Civil War.

Barlow Jacobs stars as Wade McCurry, returning home to the territory from a stint in the Union Army and, he says, as a deputy in Cheyenne.

His estranged father has solicited his return, but Wade soon finds that only his sister Martha (Clare Bowen) and her husband Heck (David Call) remain on the family’s land. Everyone else — including dad, mom and Wade’s brothers who fought for the Confederacy — has died. And Martha and Heck are actively trying to sell the land to a mining company.

The family reunion is thick with tension for several reasons, but the intensity only really picks up halfway through the flick, when the characters’ dark pasts and deep secrets collide with their shared present.

Until the plot kicks into gear, we’re left with a plodding narrative spruced up only by evocative widescreen images of the New Mexico terrain and the phenomenon of actors struggling to spit out their period dialogue.

The movie offers a convincing look at the sort of irreparable damage the Civil War did to families, literally pitting brother against brother, but too often it feels like self-conscious role-play.


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