Sunday, May 4, 2014

Streaming disappointment: Jared Moshé's taciturn western, DEAD MAN'S BURDEN

Laconic dialog can be impressive -- particularly in the western, a genre that rather lends itself to concision and economy -- but there has to be enough content on tap to properly back up the brevity. DEAD MAN'S BURDEN, the new old-style western from Jared Moshé (his first film as writer/ director), gets the style right, along with that "laconicity" (somebody: what's the noun for laconic?), and his setting, production design (Ruth De Jong) and cinematography (Robert Hauer) are all on the mark. For about half of this 2012 movie, theatrically released in limited fashion last year and now available via Netflix streaming, the spare, stripped dialog works pretty well, at least up until the midway point, because it would seem to bode important revelations to come.

When these revelations don't appear -- and when it becomes clear that we've known whatever "information" we're going to get from the very first scene of the film -- our brain goes on automatic pilot, while our butt begins taking that famous Harry Cohen "squirming fanny" test. Mr. Moshé, shown at left, spills not just the beans way too soon, but he then settles for having us spend the last half of the film mostly looking at scenery, and occasionally at close-ups of his actors, while waiting for the other, fairly obvious shoe to drop (or maybe boot, as this is a western).

Those actors are pleasant enough to look at, even if the performances can't rise above standard, thanks to the "economy" of (along with some unfortunate repetition in) the script. Barlow Jacobs (above) plays a long-lost brother returned to the bosom of a family he left and which seems to have been a nest of vipers, in any case.

Australia's Clare Bowen (above) portrays his rifle-woman sister, and David Call (below, left) essays her lover-boy, Heck.

Better supporting work (because the actors are given enough dialog/content to properly fill their small roles) comes from old-timer Richard Riehle as a long-distance neighbor, and Joseph Lyle Taylor (above, right) as a fellow come to make an offer on the family's property. The story itself simply plops a dysfunctional family down in a pretty orange-adobe/dirt-floored shack in post-Civil War New Mexico, and lets the remaining members go at each other, laconically, repetitively, until revenge takes its toll.

That's pretty much it, but as I say, Moshé has the "look" down pat. If you're a big fan of westerns -- and god knows there ain't been a peck of 'em (new ones, anyway) available to watch lately -- you just might find Dead Man's Burden worth your time. It's streaming now via Netflix  and elsewhere....

The photos above are from the film itself, with the exception of that of Mr. Moshé, which is by Jason Merritt and comes courtesy of Getty Images.

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