Fans of the traditional western will find plenty to like about Forsaken, the new western by Jon Cassar (best-known for TV’s 24). There’s the beautiful scenery, shot on location in Alberta, Canada. There’s a hero (Kiefer Sutherland) returning to his home town looking for redemption from past mistakes while attempting to rekindle his romance with an old flame (Demi Moore). There’s a ragtag gang of wisecrackin’, tobacco-spittin’, whiskey drinkin’ outlaws, hired by a wealthy land baron of dubious morality (Brian Cox) to pry prime real estate from the good families that own it. Best of all, there’s a gunfight denouement that’s exquisitely choreographed, and filled with all the requisite stylized violence that fans of the classic western have come to expect.
Said hero is beautifully played by Sutherland, in something of a big screen comeback. John Henry Clayton is an old gunfighter returning from the war where he’s seen too much death and killing, and is vowing to leave his old ways behind, and make peace with his father (his real-life father Donald), a local priest with a strong moral backbone, unwavering faith, and a pacifistic nature, from whom he is estranged.
What it doesn’t have, however, is much in the way of suspense or iconoclasm. Not for Cassar the morally ambiguous characters beloved of modern westerns like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Characters may have moral dilemmas and failings, but it’s clear from the start that the good guys will prevail and the bad guys will get their deserved comeuppance, in as poetically just a manner as possible.
Not to say it’s not an enjoyable ride. There are wonderful performances, particularly from Aaron Poole as a hired gun with a twitchy trigger finger that he flexes impulsively and gleefully, and Michael Wincott as a gentleman mercenary with a sense of fairness and a good work ethic, the movie’s one concession to moral complexity. But best of all is the younger Sutherland, who gives a virtuoso performance, (barring one questionably-scripted emotional outburst) keeping his emotions in check and wearing his entire tortured history on his expressive face. Sutherland the elder is as good as expected, though his somewhat stilted and predictable dialog gives him less to work with.
It’s worth watching for the beautiful scenery, some strong performances and solid production values, and at a fast-paced hour and a half, is not terribly demanding on the watcher. Don’t expect enlightenment, but if you’re willing to settle for solid entertainment, it’s there in abundance.