“Forsaken” Movie Review


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     It must have been something for the father and son acting duo of Donald and Kiefer Sutherland to work together for the first time in decades.  With the elder Sutherland coming off of his villainous performance in “The Hunger Games” franchise and Kiefer now apparently done playing Jack Bauer in “24”, it must have seemed like the right moment to harness all they have experienced separately and once again come together for one last appearance on screen together.  That film is “Forsaken”, a by the numbers Western with a commonly used story of a man who has done unspeakable deeds in his past and resurfaces at home looking to make amends and right his many wrongs.  At the helm is “24” vet Jon Cassar, who has worked almost exclusively in television, and has surprisingly avoided the itch to make the move into feature films until now.  The script by Brad Mirman highlights nearly every cliche we associate with the genre, including seedy saloons, face to face gunfighting, and stage coaches galore.  

     John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland) returns to his home town of Fowler, Wyoming after what is said to be a ten year absence.  It is now the early 1870s and John Henry appears weary and broken after years fighting in the Civil War and an additional stint afterwards as a hired gun.  He is a man who no longer believes in God after witnessing the atrocities of war and the fate of so many at his hand.  When John Henry arrives, he immediately finds his father, Reverend Clayton (Donald Sutherland), who informs him of the passing of his mother, which only devastates him further.  There are questions about John Henry’s disappearance and why he has chosen to come home now instead of after the war ended so as to still see his mother alive.  As each scene in “Forsaken” transpires, we slowly realize how damaged John Henry has become, as it is pointed out several times that the war will not allow someone to come back as the person they once were before.

     And that is the central theme explored throughout Cassar’s film as it moves briskly through its 90 minutes running time.  Once someone has sustained the kind of mental and physical injuries inflicted by war, they are forever changed and will never be the same again.  Reverend Clayton struggles with this and fears his son will never be the person he once knew.  He remains resentful toward his son, knowing through word that had gotten back to him and the town’s people of John Henry’s reputation for cold blooded murder as a gunfighter post war.  John Henry though appears to be a man who wants to change and leave the life he has previously lived in the past.  Of course with the predictable nature of these kinds of stories, we know something will occur that will bring the gun fighter back, either through necessity or simply coming to realize who he really is.

     One of the best things about “Forsaken” is the return to the big screen of several character actors who are likely all but unknown to the current generation of movie goers.  First and foremost is Demi Moore, playing a former John Henry love interest named Mary-Alice Watson, who manages a thoughtful and engaging performance while looking weathered and mighty plain for the first time in any film I can remember.  Michael Wincott (“The Crow”) appears as a hired gun named Dave Turner who has the look and feel of Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in “Tombstone”, but displays a completely different personality.  Playing the resident bad guy, James McCurdy, Brian Cox (“The Bourne Identity”) plays the role in the same fashion he has for decades, adding that wry sense of humor to his dialogue of which he has consistently been known for.  This talented supporting cast, which also includes a nasty turn by Landon Liboiron as Will Pickard, the cruel leader of McCurdy’s hired muscle, are each given their moments as they are all seemingly involved as the proceedings move forward.

     McCurdy is apparently brokering a deal to build a railroad just outside of town and is in need of the land occupied by several farms.  Problem is, the farmers are reluctant to sell, causing him to unleash his cast of hoodlums led by Pickard and Turner to violently force the owners to sell their land.  This, of course, puts this nefarious crew on a path to collide directly with John Henry and his father, which then poses the question as to whether or not the former notorious gun fighter will return to his bloody ways against his father’s wishes.  When Pickard in particular purposely attempts to push him to the edge, John Henry finds himself in a predicament that has him struggling to become the man he now wants to be versus the man he really is.  It’s actually a nifty plot device, but the familiarity of the story and the production design doesn't do a whole lot to differentiate this work from every other Western already made.  GRADE: C+