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First run Theater cinema

A longtime passion project for first-time director Andrew Heckler—who started adapting this true story for the screen practically as the actual incidents took place in 1996—Burdon is a social issue docudrama that tries desperately to rise above the stigma of that simplistic and cliché-ridden genre while staying truthful to the facts of the true story. Set in Laurens, South Carolina, the film tells the story of Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), an orphaned army vet who was taken under the wing of a local KKK leader when he was young. When Burden’s father figure, and unabashed racist named Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson), convinces his followers to convert a defunct movie theater into the proudly named “Redneck KKK Museum” Heckler takes an active role. However, he simultaneously begins a romantic relationship with a pure-of-heart but down-on-her-luck single-mom named Judy Harbeson (Andrea Riseborough). Under the influence of the non-racist woman he falls in love with and the Christian charity shown to him by the town’s local black leader, Reverend David Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), Burden must confront his beliefs as well as the man who raised him.

The actors all give deeply committed performances, but they ultimately feel uneven. As always, Riseborough shines distinctively; both she and Whitaker do their level best to find unexpected nuances in such saintly characters. Wilkinson is dependable as always but he’s an odd choice for this role. Hedlund embodies Mike Burden’s internal conflict in ways that feel authentic and credible but ultimately come off as too repetitive for a two-hour drama of this type. Playing a man of so few words with so few people to talk to presents a difficult challenge for an actor. Watching Hedlund shuffle from side to side in pain and confusion isn’t enough to engender enough amount sympathy for this character to keep the viewer engaged. Ultimately, we’re kept at a pretty far distance from all these characters. The film never asks us to look inwards at our own attitudes or even gets us thinking much about what we might do if we found ourselves a similar situation to Mike Burden or Judy Harbeson or Reverend Kennedy. 

Twitter Capsule:
Heckler can't avoid all the pitfalls of the social issue docudrama genre in telling the story of Mike Burden, a South Carolina man who must confront his own racism when his Klan-leader father figure opens "The Redneck KKK Museum" in 1996—though the cast tries valiantly.

Directed by Andrew Heckler
Produced by Bill Kenwright and Robbie Brenner

Written by Andrew Heckler

With: Andrea Riseborough, Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Tom Wilkinson, Usher Raymond, Crystal Fox, Tess Harper, Anna Colwell, Austin Hébert, Jason Davis, and Dexter Darden

Cinematography: Jeremy Rouse
Editing: Julie Monroe and Saar Klein
Music: Dickon Hinchliffe

Runtime: 117 min
Release Date: 21 January 2018
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1