Thursday, May 2, 2013

Movie with Abe: Dead Man’s Burden

Dead Man’s Burden
Directed by Jared Moshe
Released May 3, 2013

Westerns have a distinct feel to them. There is often a strict definition of good and bad, with some characters pushing the boundaries between the two classifications. Lawlessness and justice are forever at odds, and revenge is something that always seems to happen, even if no one is left standing by film’s end. A genre that has been sparsely populated with new entries in recent years welcomes “Dead Man’s Burden,” a through-and-through Western that, rather than try to update or rethink the format, tells a very familiar story that adheres to Western tendencies and should act, if nothing else, as a return to the cinematic Old West.

Many of the most effective scenes in classic Westerns from the 1950s and 1960s involve open space, with barely a person in sight. Utilizing the landscape, while visually stirring, can sometimes mean a dearth of characters, which can then become problematic if the story proves too difficult to latch on to because the number of players is so low. In this case, the main characters number three, and there are only five minor personalities who actually make any sort of impact on their story. Perhaps it’s because the events in their lives are not engaging enough, but this particular adventure proves awfully isolating.

As Wade McCurry (Barlow Jacobs) wanders home to New Mexico after the Civil War, he finds his tough-as-nails sister Martha (Clare Bowen) holding down the fort as the lone surviving member of their family, living with her husband Heck (David Call). Initially unrecognized by his kin, Wade has difficulty accepting that the entire family is gone, and begins searching for the person who killed his father. As a prospective buyer arrives to attempt to purchase Martha’s land, Wade soon discovers that he won’t like the answers for which he is searching. The rest of the plot shouldn’t be too hard to figure out, and it follows what seems the natural course for this genre of film.

Of the cast, Bowen stands out as the most presently recognizable due to her role as sweet-natured up-and-coming country star Scarlett on “Nashville.” Here she possesses the same fire but not the same heart, and she’s the most sympathetic character in the film only by default because there’s little competition. Richard Riehle makes an impression as Three Penny Hank, an old friend of Wade and Martha’s father, whose storyline is somewhat refreshing. Diehard fans of the Western may enjoy this film, but it’s hardly as energizing or as creative as the good old stuff as well as any of the recent successful attempts to revitalize it.


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