One selling point for the “Shane” inspired Western “Forsaken” might be the pairing of father and son Donald and Kiefer Sutherland, working together for only the third time in their respective careers.
Then there’s Kiefer, playing a reformed gunman/Civil War veteran who still sparks for the gal he left behind, played by Demi Moore, whom he co-starred with in “A Few Good Men.”
A third Western reunion here is Sutherland hooking up with his “24” director, Joe Cassar, for a film shot in the country Kiefer was born in. Lovely Alberta locations make for a greener West than the one Hollywood portrayed when “Shane” knockoffs like this one were as common as sagebrush.
But the best you can say about “Forsaken” is that it attracted a good cast, sports the odd cool character or hard-bitten bit of dialogue and that the rare surprises in its stolid, formulaic script are pleasant ones. Still, any excuse to put Kiefer on a horse and Demi in a schoolmarm’s bonnet, I suppose.
John Henry Clayton (Kiefer) ambles back into his hometown unarmed and wary. His estranged preacher/rancher dad (Donald) greets him with “Your mother is dead!”
How did she pass?
“Calling out your NAME!”
John Henry has abandoned — “forsaken” — his violent life, thrown away his guns. He goes to church with Pa, clears that acreage Ma always wanted him to farm, and tries to hide the torch he still carries for Mary-Alice (Demi).
Then he strolls into the saloon, and the lack of effort in the script starts screaming at you.
“Well well well,” the gunslinger Frank (Aaron Poole) sniggers, “it ain’t John Henry Clayton.”
Well, well well, if it ain’t the most exhausted line of introduction in screen history.
The railroad’s coming to town, the land baron (Brian Cox) has hired gunmen to chase the small farmers and ranchers out. The great and under-used Michael Wincott is dapper Dave, the Southern gentleman shootist in charge of those hired guns. He and John Henry have history, and share the script’s pithiest cliches.
“I fear you and I are headed for an inevitable conclusion,” Dave drawls.
First, John Henry must be tested, townspeople must be gunned down and John Henry himself given a beating for the ages. He turns the other cheek, for his Pa and dead Ma’s sake.
“Kick a dog long enough he’ll bite,” Dave drawls in warning.
As indeed he does. Killing is hard, these two know.
“After the first one, it gets easier,” John Henry remembers with regret.
Cassar and Sutherland-the-Younger handle the shootouts with skill and gory efficiency. Kiefer still rides wonderfully, and shows that off once or twice. And he wears the gravitas of a reluctant man of violence as well as he rides.
But the scenes with his father don’t spark. Were they even on the set at the same time for the early ones?
The pace is sedate, and the lovely locations lack the majesty that a more painterly cinematography would have delivered. It looks and plays like a TV movie — stretching to reach that magic 90 minute run-time, shot in a rush.
Demi has little to do, Brian Cox curses with venal zeal and Wincott just adjusts his hat and immaculate vest, waiting for the moment of reckoning.
Those shortcomings, and its recycled story with every move pre-ordained and telegraphed to the viewer, don’t add up to a bad film.
Revisiting classic Western tropes is no sin. But this Western reunion and those reunited in it breath no new life into its over-familiar Western themes, memes and scenes.
MPAA Rating:R for violence and some language
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Demi Moore, Brian Cox, Aaron Paul, Michael Wincott
Credits: Directed by John Cassar, script by Brad Mirman. A Momentum/eOne release.
Running time: 1:30