The handsomely made “Forsaken” is a conventional, predictable Western that, with the exception of a particular four-letter word, could have just as easily been made in 1956 as 2016. But what saves it from being an extraneous exercise in genre worship are the persuasive performances, especially Kiefer Sutherland as a gunslinger who swears off his guns but is forced to strap them on again.
Sutherland is John Henry Clayton, a man who went off to fight in the Civil War and returns home a decade later a changed man. In the interim, he had earned the fearsome reputation as someone who was no stranger to violence on and off the battlefield, much to the shame of his peaceable preacher father, Reverend Clayton (Donald Sutherland).
John Henry now says he’s had enough; he has put down his weapons for good. Yet his hometown is not the place it once was. His old flame, Mary-Alice (Demi Moore), is married and a mother. Meanwhile, all the good folk are being chased out by the greedy businessman James McCurdy (the always reliable Brian Cox), his Southern gentleman henchman (a charming Michael Wincott) and their posse of rabble who are forcing people off their farms at gunpoint. You don’t need a weatherman, or to have ever even seen a Western, to know which way this wind is blowing.
Kiefer Sutherland brings a convincing depth and vulnerability to John Henry that may surprise those who only know him from “24.” And seeing him reunited with his dad on screen lends an added emotional dimension to their reconciling father-son characters.
Written by Brad Mirman (“Body of Evidence”) and beautifully shot in the Alberta wilderness by Jon Cassar (a mostly TV director who has worked with Kiefer before on “24”) with cinematographer Rene Ohashi, “Forsaken” doesn’t color outside the lines. But it’s still a well-drawn character portrait of a man whose past is destined to be his future.
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