dead man's burden

Dead Man’s Burden Review: An Indie Western & Cinematic Spectacle

Dead Man’s Burden Movie Review

As you know, we love a good indie movie here at Movie Melt.  For me personally, I also love a good western, and I don’t think you see too many indie westerns around.  At least not good ones.  Well, when I saw the trailer for Jared Moshe’s ‘Dead Man’s Burden’ I had a feeling that I might see that theme change a little.  With a relatively unknown cast, featuring Clare Bowen, Barlow Jacobs and David Call, it is a bold, visually pleasing walk in the world of the barren New Mexico frontier that I was more than excited to check out.  It gave me a similar vibe to a favorite of mine, ‘The Proposition.’  Let’s see if it met those expectations.


The film opens with the murder of a man, by his own daughter Martha (Clare Bowen).  Martha and her husband, Heck (David Call) have aspirations of moving out west, but the appearance of Martha’s brother Wade (Barlow Jacobs), previously believed to be dead, complicates their plans.  What follows is a look at family, greed and regret against the backdrop of the barren post-Civil-War New Mexico frontier.


Now, there is a reason that Western’s are not always attempted at the lower budget, independent level.  They are not easy to do.  Perhaps the most important thing that a director must do in order to make his Western watchable, is make it authentic.  I’ve always thought it is one of the hardest genres for the filmmaker to generate the correct vibe, and feel, of the wild west.  In a film like this, one of the most important things is that barren, hopeless, dead atmosphere that the wild west has.  Many genres actually appear more authentic when a ton of money isn’t thrown at them, but Western’s aren’t always one of them.  I’m happy to say that Jared Moshe did a wonderful job making ‘Dead Man’s Burden’ completely authentic.

He does this largely through his fantastic cinematography.  The film is truly beautiful, as is the scenery that he was able to capture.  You can see the dry, hopeless landscapes that these characters inhabit, which drive their desire to move to greener pastures.  In order to actually believe these characters, and their actions it’s important to see what they are supposed to be feeling, and we do that here.

The casting also proved to be strong, and the majority of the characters do a very convincing job of playing these troubled individuals, each with their own dark past.  The main three characters here, Martha, Wade and Heck are played brilliantly by their respective actors.  Then some great character acting by Richard Riehle as a neighboring old man and Joseph Lyle Taylor as a notoriously greedy business man, vying for Martha and Heck’s land.  Overall, the cast is small, but do a brilliant job.

The story line is classical, and simple on the surface.  However, under the surface it is much deeper, and the majority of our story lies within the characters and their depth and history.  Throughout the film we learn more and more about each character, and their pasts are revealed slowly, thus explaining the actions we see them take in the present.  It is a great dynamic and it really works in making the characters extremely engaging and interesting and also making us really wonder what will happen next, as we try to get a read on them.

There is really not much to be happy about here, and the story is about as barren as the desperate landscapes.  What is also so fantastic about this though, is that something about the desperation and the dark pasts of the characters means that you can never quite guess what is really going to happen.  You just don’t know who is capable of what and what consequences every action is going to bring.  It is unpredictable without being unbelievable and for me that is a perfect formula.  There are a few things that perhaps bring it down a little, by straying from this formula, maybe in an attempt to please the viewer.  I would have been most pleased by the original formula, but you can’t blame a film maker there.


A good western can be pretty hard to come by.  Fortunately the genre has tended to be quality over quantity in recent years, and I can tell you that this little indie gem of a movie does not stray from that.  A wonderful film in so many ways, I was engrossed with the whole atmosphere of the film, which perhaps helps masks some of the small flaws it may or may not have.  If you enjoy the genre, and wonderful independent film making, then you should really check out ‘Dead Man’s Burden.’

Review Overview

Movie Melt Score - 8


An incredibly made little indie Western, which oozes all the qualities that you want from the genre. A gritty, unflinching story, told with as much happiness as it involves. None. It's a better film for it.

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