Directed by Jon Cassar
Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Brian Cox, Demi Moore
Released on 11th July 2016
Nearly 25 years ago, there was a western about a notorious former gunfighter who’d hung up his weapons. He tried to keep out of a dispute but, when it caused the death of somebody he cared about, he picked up his guns again, sorted things out and disappeared into anonymity once more.
That film was Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, for my money one of the finest westerns ever made. This week sees the DVD release of another western, Forsaken, which isn’t. But the title gives you an idea of what to expect.
While it’s not completely a re-run of Eastwood’s Oscar winner, the similarities are endless. After years away, John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland) returns to the family home with both the Civil War and years as a gunfighter behind him. He’s not exactly welcomed with open arms by his father, the Reverend William (Donald Sutherland), who blames his son’s way of life for the death of his beloved wife. Proving that he’s a reformed character isn’t made easy: he’s picked on by the local bad boys working for the land grabbing McCurdy (Brian Cox). It’s only when his father is attacked that he decides he can’t turn the other cheek any more.
There’s references to plenty of other westerns as well, not just Unforgiven, plus just about every convention of the genre you can think of. In fact, you might as well keep a list of both while you’re watching, because it might actually be more fun. Take gunfighter Gentleman Dave Turner (Michael Wincott), who’s based his entire performance on Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday from Tombstone (1993) – dapper clothes, Southern drawl, twirly moustache. The only things he’s missing are the hacking cough and matching sweaty appearance. And, by the way, what sort of name for a deadly gunfighter is Dave?? There’s the woman John Henry left behind him, this time played by Demi Moore, looking far too line-free for a woman who works on the family ranch. And the final voiceover sounds like it was lifted straight out of Legends Of The Fall (1994) with a tweak here and there.
We’ve most certainly been here before. So has Kiefer Sutherland, because he’s re-united with director Jon Cassar, who was behind the majority of 24. Cassar has spent virtually all his career in TV, either making drama series or movies for television and, in truth, this comes across like another one for the small screen. It’s predictable, derivative and never gets beyond being run of the mill.
Sutherland’s also re-united with his dad, playing his dad. Not that it makes much difference because what is potentially a good cast is lumbered with a leaden script and some scenes which are unintentionally comic. The way Sutherland junior strides through town to dole out retribution looks downright ludicrous.
Years ago, this would have been described as a B western. Soft focus and pretty to look at, but still nowhere near good enough to be a main feature. Today it’s condemned by the words “straight to DVD” because, despite screenings at some film festivals, that’s exactly what’s happened to it. I wonder how long it’ll be before it ends up where it belongs – tucked away on Channel 5 on a weekday afternoon.
Forsaken is released on DVD on Monday, 11 July and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 14 July.