When a museum celebrating the Ku Klux Klan opens in a South Carolina town, the idealistic Reverend Kennedy strives to keep the peace even as he urges the group’s Grand Dragon to disavow his racist past.
The premise seems incredulous, but it’s based closely on a true story which makes the film all the more poignant. From the very beginning, the cruelty of the backward-thinking group of men is gut-wrenching as we see white men attack Black men solely due to the color of their skin. The KKK group, lead by Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson) proudly opens a museum to celebrate their group’s history and accomplishments and while many of the townspeople protest against this abomination peacefully, we see how corruption and prejudice rule the local government.
Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) is a loyal soldier in Griffin’s army, but as he meets Judy (Andrea Riseborough), he begins to question his decisions. Choosing love over hate may be his ultimate demise as we watch him suffer the consequences of that decision. His story then becomes intertwined with the Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker) as both men, on opposite sides of the coin, are put to the test of love, loyalty, and faith.
Hedlund finds the perfect pace as Burden who has many emotional and cognitive issues to deal with. He’s explosive and angry, yet he changes subtly throughout the film showing a strength many of us could never muster. Wilkinson’s portrayal of Griffin is disturbing, giving the film the constant underlying tone of hatred. And Whitaker finds a way to make Reverend Kennedy human and real, not perfect, as he struggles with his challenges ahead. Unfortunately, this chillingly captivating story is a timely one, but perhaps it will allow us to more completely understand one another.
An unexpected and powerful film, director Andrew Heckler delivers a surprisingly compelling and ultimately moving film that is bolstered by strong performances from its veteran cast and a script that avoids the many melodramatic pitfalls films of this sort of prone to. Most surprising is the assured tone of the movie, as this is Heckler’s first time behind the camera. There’s a confidence in the telling of this tale that holds it in good stead as this is effectively rendered without affectation.