January 27, 2018

ShowbuzzDaily’s Sundance Film Festival Reviews: “Ophelia” & “Burden”


OPHELIA (no distrib):  Claire McCarthy’s film, written by Semi Chellas from Lisa Klein’s novel, dampens the fun of its own concept.  The idea is to re-tell Hamlet through the eyes of Shakespeare’s ill-fated Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) in a somewhat feminist way, and unlike other Bard marginalia like Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and John Updike’s “Gertrude and Claudius,” Ophelia meddles in meaningful ways with the actual plot of Hamlet.  But having made that jump, the filmmakers replace Hamlet‘s plot mechanics with… Romeo & Juliet?  It’s a weird choice that makes Ophelia feel much less inventive than it could have been.  Up to that point, Ophelia is something of a mixed bag anyway:  Ridley is an enjoyably spunky–and rather Rey-like–Ophelia, and Naomi Watts is both lofty and sympathetic as Gertrude, but Clive Owen never seems to get a handle on his Claudius, and when we see Watts again in another context, it’s a bit much.  Most damagingly, there’s no chemistry at all between Ridley’s Ophelia and George Mackay’s Hamlet, which this version of events requires even more than Shakespeare’s did, and that makes the whole effort seem off-key.  There are nice touches throughout, especially in David Warren’s witty production design, and one never stops being interested in seeing where the film will go next, but the angles of Ophelia aren’t often a substitute for their source.

BURDEN (no distrib):  An extremely earnest (and lengthy, at 129 minutes) yet somewhat effective true story.  Andrew Heckler’s writing/directing debut recounts the life of Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), more or less adopted as a child by local KKK leader Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson), and brought up very much in the fold of racial hatred.  As an adult, just as he’s working with Griffin to open a Klan museum and gift shop, he falls for single mom Judy (Andrea Riseborough), and her more open-minded view of the world brings him into the orbit of the town’s Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), which changes Mike’s life.  Burden‘s arc is straightforward:  the Reverend is all but a saint, and Griffin is a veritable demon, who sets out to destroy Mike and Judy’s lives the first time Mike crosses him.  (Griffin’s day job is running a repo company that operates under the name Plantation.)  There’s still plenty of power to the tale.  The four leads give compelling performances even if their roles mostly lack shading, and there’s an immensely satisfying plot development when Mike realizes the best way to vanquish Griffin and his Klan.  Burden is probably too labored and simplistic to find a wide audience, and it suffers from its “white savior” structure, but it would be a worthy pick-up for a streaming service.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."