Released: February 2016
Director: Jon Cassar
Run Time: 90 Minutes
Distributor: Momentum Pictures
Genre: Western, Drama, Action
Kiefer Sutherland: John Henry Clayton
Donald Sutherland: Reverend William Clayton
Brian Cox: James McCurdy
Michael Wincott: Gentleman Dave Turner
Aaron Poole: Frank Tillman
Demi Moore: Mary-Alice Watson
Great Westerns are generally very hard to come by, these days. Half of the Westerns released nowadays go straight to video. There just doesn’t seem to be a HUGE market for Westerns anymore. That doesn’t mean the genre is dead. Far from it. In fact, over the past decade, we’ve seen a resurgence of sorts of the genre in films like the 3:10 to Yuma remake, Appaloosa, Seraphim Falls, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. These are prime examples of how a film maker takes the time to craft an interesting story with compelling characters. That’s what helps drive a Western, and movies in general. Without those two components, the film falls apart completely. The Western has been one of my favorite film genres over the past 20 years. It’s really hard to imagine a genre like that without legendary films like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Hang ’em High, Pale Rider, or Tombstone. I could go on for hours listing all of my favorite Westerns. As I said, what drives a Western is a good story with great and compelling characters with great actors. It pleases me to review one of the best Westerns I’ve seen in a long time: Forsaken
After going to war and spending ten years after that as a hired gunman, drifter John Henry Clayton returns home to Fowler, Wyoming to reconnect with his father, Reverend William Clayton. However, during his absence, John’s mother passed away which leaves both men somewhat angry at each other. After a heated argument, John heads to the nearby woods to start clearing out a patch of land. He’s greeted by a former flame, Mary-Alice Watson, who seems surprised to see him. Meanwhile, a gang of hired mercenaries under the employ of one James McCurdy, are threatening nearby farmers, John realizes that he must reluctantly return to a life he swore to leave behind. If any of this sounds somewhat familiar, it should. It’s a narrative that’s been used many times over the past 70 years or so in the genre. It’s a tried-and-true narrative that can still work when handled properly. Thankfully, under the direction of Jon Cassar, Forsaken has a pretty good story here. Again, it doesn’t break any new ground, but it really doesn’t need to, as long as it’s well made.
The story moves at a pretty quick pace, but it doesn’t leave the characters standing on the sidelines. Oh, no, the characters are what drives the story, and the characters here are really, really good. What good are characters if you don’t have great actors to play them? In the lead roles, we have real-life father and son, Kiefer and Donald Sutherland play the Claytons. This is the first time that these two have shared scenes in a movie. Let me tell you, it’s movie magic. Their real-life relationship actually helps develop the on-screen duo’s relationship by making that much more personal. Kiefer is an intense, but his father, Donald, is just as intense. There are moments in the movie between these two that are touching and heartbreaking. I’m genuinely surprised that these two have never acted in a scene together before Forsaken. The chemistry between the two is legitimate. Everybody else does a damn good job. Michael Wincott’s character of Dave Turner is a very interesting one. The character is a hired gun, but would rather not escalate a situation to where he would have to shoot somebody. Don’t get me wrong, he’ll do it, but he’d rather do it the peaceful way. That gives the character a unique dimension in that he’s not a straight-up villain. Wincott, with his signature gravelly voice, gives the character grace AND grit. It’s awesome. Brian Cox, is the obvious villain, but he does it very well. Demi Moore is fantastic as Mary-Alice Watson. She brings grace and humanity to a character that could have easily been John’s wife. All the characters feel real and three dimensional, which is rare for a film with only a 90-minute run time.
Now, this being a Western, there are certain things that one tends to expect from the genre. While Forsaken doesn’t have any Indians, there are some serious gun-fights peppered throughout the film, and they are pretty vicious. The stunt-work is fantastic with characters being shot off horses and off buildings. It’s a gritty and yet very exciting film to watch. With some solid editing, we can see what’s going on, and with such gorgeous backdrops, it’s an absolutely stunning picture.
Are there any negative aspects to the film? Honestly, not really. For a film that didn’t see a lot of screen time in theaters, it’s a surprisingly compelling experience. I suppose you could say that it follows certain tropes too closely, but because the film is anchored with such amazing performances and a solid story through-out, all those complaints are just little nit-picks in what is other-wise a very stellar Western. Kiefer and Donald Sutherland really give the film its heart and soul. Michael Wincott is one of my favorite actors and I’m happy that he’s given a more meaty role than I’ve seen him in before. The gun-fights are awesome and the performances are great, but it’s the smaller character moments that really make the film for me. Especially when you see Kiefer’s and Donald’s characters begin to reconcile. For me, their performance is worth the price of admission alone. While I don’t think that Forsaken will go down in history as one of the greatest Westerns ever, it does more than enough to be a great movie on its own terms. I don’t think I can recommend this movie enough. If you’re a fan of either actor or Westerns in general, this is a must-see, if not a must-own film.
Final Score: 10/10.