- Directed by Jon Cassar
- September 14, 2015 (TIFF) / February 19, 2016 (United States)
A gunfighter tries to make amends with his estranged father while their town is the focus of a ruthless land-grabber.
Forsaken is a revisionist Western that starts out very revisionist with very crappy people galore and ends much closer to an older style Western. Not entirely there but very close. And better yet it didn’t feel like out abruptly altered ending but that things changed as the story moved along. I am not saying it goes to mythmaking but rather feeling that it ends in a more positive light.
John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland) is a Civil War vet who’s also known as quite the gunslinger. At least that’s the reputation that’s put on though he is rather adverse to violence the whole film. He comes home for the first time in 10 years and because his mom died while he was away things aren’t the best with dear old dad who is the Rev. Samuel Clayton (Donald Sutherland). For two individuals who as I recall were reported at one point as having a strained relationship, I’m not sure playing father and son with a strained relationship would be the best thing to do to keep the relationship on a positive note.
John Henry’s (he is addressed as such during the whole film) abrupt arrival exposes old emotional wounds which seem a bit overblown from an outsider’s perspective. Often in revisionist Westerns people have an axe to grind and not because it is a genuine wrong. It seems father and son have enough axes to supply a logging company.
James McCurdy (Brian Cox) is an evil land baron trying to buy up all the farms in the area. Other than expanding his own property he doesn’t seem to have any greater goal than buying the land. Is he a farmer? Does he raise cattle? Not sure. And being an evil land baron he plans on forcing people off in whatever way possible even if it means planting them in the ground.
McCurdy alternates between businesslike and evil. It is not an inconsistent characterization as it fits with the character. He will put on a pleasant face yet switch to threatening when being the nice guy doesn’t get him what he wants. Cox makes him alternately likeable and despicable.
Demi Moore plays John Henry’s former flame Mary Alice. I suppose her character is to give the narrative some emotional romantic weight but the absence of her character as well as that of the husband she gained during John Henry’s absence would not have affected things any. At some point McCurdy was going to send his men to rough up the Reverend which would force John Henry’s hand into fighting the bad men.
I personally enjoyed a hired gun named Gentleman Dave Turner played by Michael Wincott. Wincott has always been great as villains. They’ve come off as a little more than one note under his work and Dave here is perhaps one of his finer performances I’ve seen in a long time. Dave’s the gentleman hired gun who knows how to handle his steel but based on his language and walk would prefer to be part of high society. He is very verbose and very formal and during the course of the film develops a healthy respect for the character of John Henry.
I know this will not happen but I would love to see Wincott return as Gentleman Dave Turner in a solo project. Gentleman Dave was perhaps the most entertaining character in the whole film and Wincott stole every scene. He was a bad guy you could really like. There was nothing really personal for the character in this. It was just business.
They certainly left it as a possibility should the opportunity arise. After John Henry blows away all of McCurdy’s men (but Dave) they meet in the town square. Neither wants to fight the other but Dave must fight as he is a hired gun and if he runs or walks away he will never get employed again. I didn’t see what happened next coming but John Henry says his gun is much heavier than Dave’s gun which puts him at a disadvantage and he wishes go back to the saloon where he just slaughtered everyone to get a colt. Not to ruin anything and this does give away the resolution so read no further. If you’re still reading then here we go: John Henry goes to track down McCurdy because once he kills that douchebag Dave is unemployed and can step away as he no longer has a contract to fill. It was a neat and intelligent resolution. I truly expected both to shoot each other and die tragically with the father mourning the death of his son. Instead they used some intelligence.
The story is not bad but there is a great deal of focus on emotional pain rather than story building. The land grabbing is an excuse for people to go on about how bad they feel over this or that. Emotions and feelings are important but when characters go on extensively about them things get boring. Show rather than talk.
Ultimately Forsaken is a better than it should have been revisionist Western. I’m not calling it great but it is entertaining enough if you catch it. It might be worth digging up.