Director: Jon Cassar
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Demi Moore, Brian Cox, Michael Wincott, Aaron Poole, Greg Ellis
MPAA Rating: (for violence and some language)
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 2/19/16
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 19, 2016
The two gunslingers meet in the town saloon. They eye each other, measuring up the other one. One of them has put down his pistols—for good, he says. The other still keeps his six-shooters holstered at his hip. This man has work to do. The reformed man doesn't care for that work. The gunslinger who's still in practice tells the retired one that a confrontation between the two is "inevitable." He's right, of course, and there's a sense in that scene that the two men know this. We're painfully aware of it in Forsaken, even before the statement is made outright.
To the credit of screenwriter Brad Mirman, that confrontation, when it arrives, is not exactly what we expect. It's a clever twist on the clichéd showdown, in which two skilled shooters stand in the street of a town, staring each other down and coming to a mutual agreement on when to draw their weapons. For the time being, though, let's leave those two characters there, because to go any further in describing the scene would be to ruin one of the movie's few, genuine surprises.
Come to think of it, that scene might be the movie's only surprise. Mirman follows the Western template as if it were an exact science. There's the gunfighter who would rather never pick up a gun again. There's a villain with a scheme to get rich and who will do pretty much anything to do so. There are henchmen with itchy trigger fingers, and they have no sympathy for the townsfolk, who just want to live their lives on their land in peace. There's a woman who knew the protagonist in their younger days, and she's torn between the man she once knew and the man with whom she has made a life since those former years. There's a man of deeply held religious convictions who believes that violence is never the appropriate response.
Kiefer Sutherland plays John Henry Clayton, the former outlaw who, as a younger man, went off to war and never returned home. Ten years after his departure, he has finally returned home, hoping to put his life as an outlaw behind him and to make amends for his sins. Donald Sutherland plays John Henry's father, the good Rev. Clayton, who resents his son's disappearance, especially since John Henry's mother died while he was away, but wants to be able to forgive his boy's transgressions.
The casting of father-and-son actors as the father and the son here is not just a good line for the movie's marketing materials. There's real tension between them, along with a sense of genuine love and admiration and history beneath it, that helps to make the movie's central debate more than just a detached philosophical one with a preordained end.
The rest of the cast of characters fulfill those required archetypes, and those roles are also finely cast. Brian Cox plays James McCurdy, the remorseless entrepreneur of a villain. The railroad will be coming to town, and McCurdy is trying to buy the land of people living on its outskirts.
When they refuse to sell, McCurdy needs people like Dave Turner (Michael Wincott), a fine marksman who thinks he can obtain people's property with diplomatic means, and Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole), who quickly tires of Turner's negotiations and would rather get this job finished as quickly and as violently as possible. Demi Moore plays Mary-Alice, John Henry's former sweetheart, who has since married a "good man," by all accounts, named Tom (Greg Ellis). Tom is jealous of John Henry's continuing allure for his wife, and that leads to a really bad decision on his part.
Everyone in town knows that John Henry is the right man to fight the dastardly acts of McCurdy and his goons, including John Henry himself. He is dedicated to reforming, though (A seemingly unconnected prologue serves as the reason behind his transformation). That frustrates the townsfolks but gives hope to his father. The goons seem hell-bent on proving the conversion to be a fraud, as they repeatedly abuse and, later, beat John Henry. "If you kick a dog long enough," Turner observes, "it's going to bite."
It's not a question of whether or not John Henry will—or even should—return to his old ways. As Turner earlier observes, that's an inevitability, and that fact keeps this story in stridently predictable territory. We suspect he will, because that's what the genre has trained us to expect, and Mirman keeps piling on the injustices wrought upon the innocent folks of the town until there is no other choice. The reverend may talk a good game about rejecting violence, but his sentiments ultimately ring false. The scenario is loaded from the start, and the movie just keeps adding weight.
The performances are fine, and director Jon Cassar ensures that there's authenticity to the setting and tension in the standoffs. Everything here, though, is predetermined, and the only lingering question of Forsaken is which plot development will finally be the one that takes this story where it must go.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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