Dead Man’s Burden (Jared Moshe, 2012): USA

Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed at the Regal Cinemas as part of the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival.

Dead Man's Burden

Director Jared Moshe’s attempt at the western genre, Dead Man’s Burden, has a modest feel to it with some effective moments, but may only appeal to the ardent western fans.

Martha (Clare Bowen) has just gunned down her father with the approval and complicity of her husband Heck (David Call). Their intentions are to sell her father’s New Mexico homestead, where she has felt trapped, to a mining company that has shown interest in the land and use the money to open a hotel in San Francisco.

Martha’s brother Wade (Barlow Jacobs), long thought dead, has returned from the Civil War where he fought for the Union rather than the Confederates as his brothers did. His desire to keep the land and his inquisitiveness about the cause of their father’s death threaten to derail Martha’s plan of escape to a better life.

On the surface Moshe seems to have covered most of the genre bases in his contribution to the western, though the film can’t help but feel a bit small. Moshe doesn’t seem to use the landscape to its full effectiveness, often negating it by employing a shallow depth of field in many scenes rather than incorporating it into the scene.

The fact that we know very quickly the major plot points that the characters are trying to figure out, like how Wade and Martha’s father was killed and who did it or that Wade fought for the North against his brothers, puts a drag on the film as we have to wait for the characters to finally catch up to us.

The acting in the film is one of its strengths. Clare Bowen’s Martha makes a strong female lead that we too often don’t get in films, and David Call gives a steady performance with quietly psychotic undertones to make Heck that much more interesting. Joseph Lyle Taylor is a standout as E.J. Lane, the mining company’s representative. His confident performance gives Lane as slickness without making him seem sleazy or dishonest.

The film is very low key and doesn’t redefine the genre or add to it in any significant way, but it is an admirable attempt at the western that is worth seeing if you’re a fan of the genre.

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