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Forest Whitaker plays Reverend David Kennedy in Andrew Heckler's Burden.

Mark Hill/Lionsgate / Courtesy of Mongrel Media

  • Burden
  • Written and directed by Andrew Heckler
  • Starring Garrett Hedlund, Andrea Riseborough and Forest Whitaker
  • Classification R; 117 minutes

rating

2 out of 4 stars

Andrew Heckler’s new film Burden comes to video-on-demand this week equipped with a curious timeline. The race-relations drama premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, earning the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award, which would suggest a quick-ish track to success. Yet it has taken more than 2½ years to reach audiences in Canada. Why? Blame the myriad entanglements and complexities of international film rights, if you’d like. Or maybe take a closer look at what Burden is trying to say, and realize that it is yet another movie where racial tolerance rests in the hands of a reformed bigot, with the characters who actually face systemic racism forced to the sidelines.

Like Green Book, The Blind Side, The Soloist and so on, Burden fits too snugly into the white-saviour mode of storytelling. Which is a shame, because everyone involved here is doing their best in trying to craft layered characters with compelling agendas. Notably Forest Whitaker, who plays the real-life South Carolina Reverend David Kennedy – a man who cannot resist the urge to help others, even when one of those charity cases is Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), a white supremacist whose surrogate father (Tom Wilkinson) founded the Redneck KKK Museum.

Tom Wilkinson, left, plays the surrogate father of a white supremacist played by Garrett Hedlund, right.

Mark Hill/Lionsgate / Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Typically, Whitaker can lend the sloppiest assignment some much-needed dignity, but here he gives far more than the easy and lazy script ever demands, so much so that you begin to feel sorry that he took the time and energy to do so. Hedlund is more adept at meeting the expectations of Heckler’s middle-ground bar, although he does excel when faced off against his two polar-opposite nemeses: the stubborn Kennedy and Wilkinson’s sometimes-cartoonishly abusive patriarch.

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Perhaps if Burden used its Sundance victory way back when to leapfrog into theatres, beating Green Book by just a few months, we’d all be talking about a different kind of narrative. But as this reality goes, it’s not difficult to see why Burden has been rendered an afterthought.

Burden is available digitally on-demand starting June 23

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