Thursday, March 5, 2020

A KKK zealot finds a measure of redemption

In Burden, a member of the Ku Klux Klan finds redemption when he encounters a black preacher for whom the Klansman poses an extreme test of love and forgiveness. That sounds interesting and, at times, Burden fulfills its promise. Overall, though, the movie — set in a small South Carolina town in 1996 and based on a true story — takes obvious aim at white supremacy and makes us wonder whether the redemption of a Klansman is worth more attention than the stories of those victimized by the organization's hate. Garrett Hedlund gives the year’s twitchiest performance as Mike Burden, a Klansman who earns his living repossessing TVs. Mike is part of a Klan faction that has decided that what his town needs is a KKK museum. A local black clergyman (Forest Whitaker) leads protests against the museum. The museum's founder, a Klan honcho played by Tom Wilkinson, raised the orphaned Mike on a diet of supremacist ideology and white rancor. Director Andrew Heckler doesn’t explain Mike’s distracting shuffle and bobblehead movements until late in the movie, too late to keep them from driving us crazy. Mike’s reformation begins when he meets Judy (Andrea Riseborough), a young mother who has no use for the Klan. Her son plays with black children, just as Mike did when he was a kid. Heckler’s unsteady direction works against involvement in a story that spends too much time in KlanWorld. Tensions between Whitaker’s Reverend David Kelly and his son deserved more attention and I left unconvinced by the movie's suggestion that love conquers hate. How about fair laws, rigorous enforcement, and public condemnation? Just sayin'. Though intermittently effective, Burden stands as an anecdote straining to carry a larger message.

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