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New Review: Forsaken (2016)

Updated on May 20, 2016

Director: Jon Cassar
Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Demi Moore, Brian Cox, Michael Wincott, Aaron Poole, Jonny Rees, Dylan Smith

It’s a story we’ve seen many times before. There’s the gunslinger who wants to hang up his holsters and live a life of peace. He returns to his home town, only to find the residents there bullied by a gang of thugs who are running people off their land. You have the good-hearted woman who loved the gunslinger many years ago, but who moved on with her life and started a family when he never returned home from the war. And of course, it ends with the gunslinger picking up his guns again and saving the town from the bad guys.

Any filmmaker can take old material and make it seem new again, but Forsaken is a Western that’s old-fashioned to a fault. It follows many of the same story beats that have been used in dozens of other movies without really bringing anything new to the table. You can pretty much guess everything that’s going to happen in the movie well in advance, save for one twist in the end, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Kiefer Sutherland stars as John Henry Clayton, a gunslinger with a Troubled Past (we get a hint of it in the movie’s opening scene) who wants to leave behind his violent ways and live the remainder of his life in peace. He returns to his father’s home, the Reverend William Clayton (Donald Sutherland), in hopes that he would be welcomed with open arms. William, however, has grown disappointed with the man his son has become, and feels more than a little resentment toward him given that he’s been away for ten years (John’s mother had passed away during that time).

The casting of real life father-son Kiefer and Donald Sutherland was a very smart move on the movie’s part. We can truly sense the history between these two men, and the quieter moments between them have a real warmth that they probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.

They make it work better than it has any right to.
They make it work better than it has any right to.

Brian Cox stars as the greedy land grabber James McCurdy, who’s trying to drive people off of their lands to make room for the railroad. In his employment are two gunslingers with two totally different approaches. There’s Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole), a trigger-happy young punk who believes in getting the job done as quickly and as violently as possible. He also seems to go out of his way to start trouble, sometimes for no other reason than to advance the plot. I can’t think of any other explanation for what he does in the last act of the film (it’s the incident that causes John to spring back into action again).

The other is perhaps the most interesting character in the movie, a man named Gentleman Dave Turner. The character is played by Michael Wincott, who is notorious for playing sadistic villains, but plays a man here who would rather try to reason with the townsfolk than intimidate them with violence. He respects John for trying to stay out of the shenanigans in town, even when Frank humiliates him and beats him savagely in public. He knows that he and John are going to have to meet in combat soon (he even calls it an “inevitable conclusion,” which is appropriate in more ways than one), and the very mention of it seems to fill him with sadness. He’s a character worthy of his gentleman title, and Wincott is perfectly cast in the role.

Here's the real reason to see this movie, if that is what you decide to do.
Here's the real reason to see this movie, if that is what you decide to do.

Demi Moore co-stars as Mary Alice, the woman John loved so many years ago who’s now married to a “good man” named Tom Watson (Jonny Rees). Tom can sense that there’s still love between Mary Alice and John, and of course, he grows insanely jealous and starts acting like a total douche (even stopping his wife from helping John during his brutal beating in town). While Moore is just fine as the woman who still harbors feelings for our hero, her character is thankless and brings almost nothing to the movie. Her character, and the silly jealous husband subplot as well, could have been excised from the movie and it wouldn’t have mattered.

This is stuff we’ve seen in many other movies, but the problem with Forsaken isn’t that the material is old and predictable, it’s that the filmmakers bring very little new to it. That’s a shame, because in all honesty, this really isn’t a bad movie. The performances are all very strong (I thought Wincott stole the show), and the technical credits are aces. The film’s climactic violent showdown is staged with unquestionable skill by director Jon Cassar, and the final showdown between John and Gentleman Dave features the movie’s one genuine surprise.

It’s that one surprise that hints at the movie that could have been. Had screenwriter Brad Mirman been as creative and bold with the rest of the movie as he was in that one twist, then Forsaken might have been truly compelling. As it is, it stays on a road that too many other movies have traveled, and while the acting is good enough to make the journey a pleasant one, you’re left feeling like the movie could have done so much more. Forsaken is a fine rental if there’s nothing else at your local Redbox, but it’s more than a little disappointing to see so much talent put into something we’ve seen so many times before.

Final Grade: ** ½ (out of ****)

Rated R for violence and profanity

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