Forsaken is the first film to co-star father and son actors Donald and Kiefer Sutherland as father and son. That’s the hook, but there is way more to this western than anyone would expect, although a glance at the credits of the director, writer, and impressive supporting cast should give you a hint that this is an exceptional film.
The story, on the surface, seems deceptively simple and one any fan of westerns has seen a dozen times. The railroad is coming and a corrupt business man is using a bunch of thugs to force farmers to sell their land to him. But to leave the description there would be like saying High Noon was about a town’s law enforcement human resources problems.
Set in 1872 Wyoming, the story begins as John Henry Clayton, played by Kiefer Sutherland (24, L.A. Confidential, The Lost Boys), returns home from the Civil War; only it’s ten years later than everyone was expecting him. Everyone includes his father, the Reverend Clayton, played by Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games, The Italian Job, MASH), and his former girlfriend, Mary-Alice, played by Demi Moore (A Few Good Men, G.I. Jane, Ghost).
John Henry’s father, the Reverend, is bitter, and his former girlfriend has moved on, but his problems run deeper than that. During his ten lost years John Henry continued to use the lethal skills he’d learned in the war, earning a reputation as a gunfighter. He tries to leave that behind, reestablish a life in his old home, and rebuild his relationships.
Director Jon Cassar (24, The Kennedys, La Femme Nikita (1997)) and Writer Brad Mirman (The Good Shepherd, Joshua, Highlander: The Final Dimension) bring John Henry’s struggle to life through finely crafted words, beautiful cinematography, and touching symbolism. The music by Jonathan Goldsmith is also exceptional.
Cassar does a lot with looks and symbols. His actors get to act, not just repeat the lines. But the lines that Mirman provided them are excellent. The film begins with a shocking scene of violence that we won’t understand until much later. That is followed by and contrasted to John Henry riding home through settings that suggest an idyllic country life. The very first words we hear spoken are from the Reverend Clayton, who upon seeing his son for the first time in ten years says, “Your Mother is dead.”
Shortly thereafter Mirman clues us in to the theme of the film, when, after noticing that his son is no longer wearing his six guns, Reverend Clayton comments, “I don’t know if a man can get away from who he is.”
The supporting cast which helps John Henry answer that question includes a variety of antagonists. Dave Turner, played by Michael Wincott (The Crow, Alien: Resurrection, 1492: Conquest of Paradise), is a Southerner who fought in many of the same battles that John Henry did, but on the other side. He has embraced the gunslinger life from which John Henry seeks to escape and provides a mirror into which John Henry can gaze.
Brian Cox, who played the first screen incarnation of Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter, is the businessman who is driving people off their land. He is a devil-like corrupting influence to all around him.
The head of the thugs is played by Landon Liboiron (Hemlock Grove, The Howling: Reborn, Terra Nova). His creepy visage personifies yet a third kind of evil, ignorant and sadistic.
The rest of the cast does a fine job as well, with even minor characters having impressive credits.
Violent Yet Spiritual
When Forsaken gets down to fistfights and gun fire, it does not spare the blood. Yet, above all, it is a spiritual and intimate film.
Set in a world separated from us by over a hundred years, the questions it asks about loyalty, morality and family are timeless. It explores human nature, community and violence. And, did I mention that it’s a kick-ass western with Kiefer and Donald Sutherland?
Forsaken is rated “R” for violence and language. It opens in theaters and VOD on February 19. The trailer can be viewed below.