Reviewed by: Robert Munro

"The film is enjoyable enough, but unfortunately Kiefer Sutherland is not Alan Ladd."

There can be no doubt that the revival of the western in the twenty-first century is real and seemingly quite sustainable. Yet while films such as The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, Jauja, Slow West and either of Mr Tarantino’s recent efforts tease out some of the genre's common themes and iconography, Forsaken feels like it belongs to a prior era. Not to the Western’s heyday, but to a previous revival in the 1990s in which there is an elegiac sun-dappled tone accompanying the slightly graphic violence.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This film has no interest in reinventing the wheel, but rather making sure that the wagon underneath which it sits is solidly built enough to make this journey into familiar territory comfortable. Forsaken stars father-son duo Keifer and Donald Sutherland, and marks the first time that the two have shared a scene together on the big screen. Kiefer is John Henry, who is - you guessed it - a weary gunslinger returning to the small town home of his father, who happens to be the preacher.

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But of course the town is under threat, from a local land baron in the shape of McCurdy. McCurdy, played with a gregarious malevolence by Brian Cox, is forcing out all the homesteaders by making them an offer they can’t refuse - sell him their land or find themselves on the wrong end of a gun. McCurdy has a band of ne’er-do-wells to do his intimidating for him, led by Gentleman Dave, Michael Wincott, who reminds us of John Carradine’s Hatfield from Stagecoach, albeit more honourable.

If the plot sounds familiar that’s because it is. John Henry wants to forget his murderous past and set up a farm at his fathers house, much as his late mother had always wanted him to. He is mentally fatigued from the bloodshed of the Civil War, and the urge to keep killing which lingered with him in its aftermath. When former beau Mary-Alice, played wonderfully with very little to work with by Demi Moore (remember her?), asks why he did not return to her after the war, John Henry responds: “I was done with killing, but she wasn’t done with me”. The script by Brad Mirman is full of such one-liners some of which are less toe-curling than that.

The film is enjoyable enough, but unfortunately Kiefer Sutherland is not Alan Ladd, and while Forsaken invokes Shane as much as possible without appearing to be a remake of George Stevens’ 1953 classic, Sutherland at no point convinces as a gun-toting murderer, though you think he’d have plenty of experience of that. He teams up here with director John Cassar, whom he had worked with on the previously alluded to 24. But Sutherland Jr is too anxious and expressive in his acting when such a role calls for the quiet stoicism of cowboys past. No-one wants a greetin-faced gunslinger.

However there are enough excellent performances surrounding Kiefer Sutherland to lift the film, with the aforementioned Cox surely putting himself up for a part in any reprisal of Deadwood with some terrific swearing. Those with a fondness of Westerns will no doubt find this amiable company on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but with so much vitality in the genre at the moment Forsaken feels a little out of step, a little incidental.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2016
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Forsaken packshot
A disillusioned former gunslinger tries to reconcile with his father but finds their frontier town terrorised by a brutal gang.

Director: Jon Cassar

Writer: Brad Mirman

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Brian Cox, Michael Wincott, Aaron Poole, Demi Moore

Year: 2015

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Canada, France, US


EIFF 2016

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