Set in sunny New Mexico, this little indie western turns out to be a surprisingly dark and twisted piece of filmmaking. From the beginning, it is clear that Dead Man’s Burden isn’t about plot – the story of a family that is torn apart about selling its farm is pretty familiar – but rather about the psychological confrontation between 3 characters: Martha (Clare Bowen), her lover Heck (David Call) and her brother Wade (Barlow Jacobs).
Despite a rather modest budget, first-time director Jared Moshé does a pretty good job at capturing the peaceful landscape, which he uses to both isolate his characters and contrast with their inner turmoil. His film is mostly set around the farm and follows them closely, each of them having their own hidden agenda.
Dead Man’s Burden is your typical American western; it obeys to the genre’s rules while paying a respectful homage to classics – particularly that opening shot reminiscent of John Ford’s The Searchers. Mr. Moshé’s however injects a strong dose of cynicism in his script, which he might owe to Italian westerns. It is during those dark and sometimes shocking moments that Dead Man’s Burden really comes alive. For the rest, the storyline and dialogues are not sharp enough to keep the spectators on the edge of their seat during the quieter sequences.
The cast is also pretty uneven. The blond beauty Clare Bowen has the appropriate angelic traits for her role, her innocent looks contrasting with her character’s true self. On the contrary, Mr. Jacobs looks too soft to be convincing as a lone gunslinger; with their polished faces, he and Mr. Call would probably be a better fit for a soap opera, than for a gritty western.
Of course, Dead Man’s Burden being built around outbursts of violence aiming at shaking the film’s assumed slow pace, you cannot really complain that there are some dull moments here, especially as it is a debut work – only the likes of Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino and the Cohen Brothers would have been able to bring excitement during those bare scenes. Dead Man’s Burden might be flawed but it is nevertheless striking enough to showcase Mr. Moshé’s talents, both as a writer and a director.
Director: Jared Moshé – Actors: Barlow Jacobs, Clare Bowen – Running Time: 1:33 – Year: 2012 – Country: USA