Directed by Jon Cassar.
Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Demi Moore, Michael Wincott, Greg Ellis and Brian Cox.
In the Old West, former Civil War-veteran John Henry returns to his frontier hometown where he must repair a fractious relationship with his Reverend father, and face the demons of his past when a gang of outlaws threaten the community…
Not just a throwback to the Western of old, Forsaken is a film born of historical connections. Directed by Jon Cassar, who worked with Kiefer Sutherland on the series that made him iconic, 24, and starring Kiefer alongside his legendary father Donald Sutherland, something they’ve only briefly done before – sharing screen time in the little known Max Dugan Returns in the early 80’s and appearing not together in Joel Schumacher’s A Time to Kill in 1996. For them, the appeal was appearing not just together but as father and son on screen, and it turns out to be a fairly successful vehicle for a team up long in the making.
It’s a very traditional story, a classic Western narrative in many respects; lonely former gunslinger returns to town after many years, only to face a band of swarthy Old West gangsters looking buy up all the farms around town, while battling his demons over a life he wants to leave behind. Standard kind of John Ford fayre, given an extra sheen with the Sutherland’s who both add a necessary level of gravitas to a story and a script which otherwise would have been fairly unremarkable.
Cassar chooses to frame his story in measured, slowly paced terms, electing to focus more on the central character dynamic between Kiefer’s wayward, former Civil War-veteran John Henry and Donald’s Reverend father, with an immediate character conflict inherent between them; John has been scarred by the war, fashioned into a violent man he comes home to escape, and crucially he’s lost any faith he may have once had. Donald’s character feels a sense of loss at the recent death of his wife, but shame at a son he missed, but can’t quite reconcile himself to admit.
Brad Mirman’s script isn’t as subtle as one suspects he imagines, but it neatly allows Kiefer & Donald to play off each other and develop a relationship which acts as the nerve centre, with dynamics alongside Demi Moore’s married, lost love of Kiefer, and Michael Wincott in a morally questionable role of a gentleman gunslinger, at odds with the brutish murderers who make up the gang of McCready, played lugubriously as ever by the great Brian Cox, effectively the ‘black hat’ of the story. Plenty of undercurrent drama lies beneath the main story, and while it’s doubtful you’ll have trouble guessing where the whole endeavour ends, it’s a satisfying and refreshingly brisk tale quite well told.
Props to Cassar too, a TV director, who frames his piece quite sumptuously, throwing us into an 1800’s which looks the part, with some impressive photography capturing the feel of the period. Even when the drama and narrative is quite sedate, it’s very pretty on the eyes, and even though it’s a relatively safe and time honoured, traditional Western, Forsaken at least understands this and the cast and crew own it, as seen in the scant ten minute featurette the DVD delivers. Cassar, the Sutherland’s, all the main players discuss how they set out to create an homage to a kind of cinema rarely made these days, and in that they’re successful.
Punched up by the presence of Kiefer (even if he is playing an old West, muted version of Jack Bauer) and Donald Sutherland, flanked by a solid cast of players, and an equally solid script which Jon Cassar draws out well, it’s never going to be revered as a classic Western, but for a Western with a nod to the classic, it’s a perfectly good watch that will leave you satisfied by the bloody, earned climax.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Facebook & Twitter.