×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘Forsaken’

Kiefer Sutherland and Donald Sutherland are cast as prodigal son and disapproving dad in Jon Cassar's enjoyably old-fashioned Western.

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

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2271563/

If “Forsaken” were any more old-fashioned, lenser Rene Ohashi might have filmed it in black-and-white, scripter Brad Mirman definitely would have trimmed the F-bombs from his dialogue, and the entire enterprise probably would bear the brand of RKO or Republic Pictures. Refreshingly and unabashedly sincere in its embrace of Western conventions and archetypes, this pleasingly retrograde sagebrush saga should play exceptionally well with currently under-served genre fans — except, perhaps, for those with low tolerance for salty language – and likely will enjoy a long shelf life as home-screen product after potentially profitable exposure in theatrical corrals.

The first-time onscreen pairing of Kiefer Sutherland and his dad, Donald Sutherland — as a prodigal son and his disapproving father — is a natural selling point for the film, one that conceivably could attract curiosity seekers not normally interested in oaters. But the casting also serves to enhance the emotional heft of the familiar storyline. These two evenly matched pros bring out the best in each other — maybe because they know exactly where to look for it — and the unaffected intensity of their key scenes together help make more than a few cliches seem, if not freshly minted, then newly reinvigorated.

The plot pivots on the return of gunslinger John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland) to his small Wyoming hometown of Fowler in 1872, several years after his Civil War service. During the time since his military discharge, John Henry has acquired a well-earned reputation as a fearsomely efficient shootist. And despite his announced intention to hang up his guns, just about everyone in Fowler — but especially his preacher father, Rev. William Clayton (Donald Sutherland) — is skeptical that he has had enough of death to last him a lifetime.

For a while, however, John Henry really does behave like a changed man. He’s happy to see Mary Alice (Demi Moore), the love he left behind, but he resigns himself to the fact that she married another man, and had a son, during his long absence. He remains estranged from his father — the two men can scarcely converse without reopening old wounds and exchanging recriminations — but they gradually settle into relatively peaceful coexistence as John Henry clears parts of the family homestead that his late mother wanted farmed.

Unfortunately, there is a hungry serpent in this Garden of Eden: James McCurdy (Brian Cox), a ruthless businessman bent on forcing local farmers to sell him their land, so he can profit from the approaching railroad. Gentleman Dave Turner (Michael Wincott), a deceptively courtly hired gun who pays John Henry the respect of professional courtesy, is hired by McCurdy to “convince” holdouts to sign over their deeds. But while the silver-tongued Turner prefers to use salesmanship laced with intimidation, other McCurdy employees — including the hot-headed Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole) — are of a mind to simply shoot first, and last, and never ask any questions at all.

Evidencing such remarkable self-control that even Rev. Clayton is impressed, John Henry stoically turns the other cheek when baited, and then beaten, by Frank and his thuggish cohorts. But when the bad guys finally go too far — well, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

Emmy Award-winning TV director Jon Cassar (who previously teamed with Kiefer Sutherland on “24”) keeps a disciplined rein on the proceedings here, so that his 90-minute film feels neither rushed nor dawdling as it takes time for backstory and character development before the inevitable final shootout. Ohashi actually did shoot “Forsaken” in color, with Alberta capably doubling for Wyoming, but Cassar firmly resists what must have been a strong temptation to rely too heavily on strikingly beautiful exteriors.

Both Sutherlands look spot-on perfect for their roles; Kiefer’s character lines increase his flintiness quotient, while Donald’s flowing white hair and beard suggest a demanding Old Testament paterfamilias. And while it’s doubtless not a good idea to parse any part of the movie for possible echoes of their real-life relationship, the two actors are so affectingly poignant in a third-act scene of reconciliation that you may be hard-pressed to tell where your feelings for the characters end, and your feeling for the men playing them begins.

Supporting roles are well cast across the board, with Cox (whose blustering land-grabber does most of the R-worthy cussing) and Moore deserving credit for adding some semblance of depth to Western stereotypes. But the real scene-stealer here is Wincott, playing the most elegantly grandiloquent gunslinger this side of Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in “Tombstone.” Both Cassar and Mirman obviously studied scads of old Westerns before making “Forsaken,” and learned their lessons well. But it would appear they paid particularly close attention to Budd Boetticher’s “Ride Lonesome” when it came time to resolve a conflict between two Wild West frenemies.

Toronto Film Review: 'Forsaken'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations), Sept. 14, 2015. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: (Canada) A Momentum Pictures (in U.S.) release of a Minds Eye Entertainment production in association with Panacea Entertainment, Rollercoaster Entertainment, Vortex Words + Pictures, Moving Pictures Media. Produced by Kevin DeWalt, Josh Miller, Bill Marks, Gary Howsam, Isabella Marchese Ragona. Executive producers, Lisa Byrne, Jon Cassar, Kenny Cheung, Trish Cook, Wilson Da Silva, Gerard Demaer, Doug Falconer, Harry F. Gabel, Dan Galang, Richard Goldstein, Jessica Martins, Kathy McCoy, Patrick Roy, Ivan Sabourin, Jeff Sackman, Mark Slone, Lisa Sohn, Paul Tan, Barbara Voynovich, Trevor Wilson, Ted Yew, Craig Yu.

Crew: Directed by Jon Cassar. Screenplay, Brad Mirman. Camera (color), Rene Ohashi; editor, Susan Shipton; music, Jonathan Goldsmith; production designer, Ken Rempel; art director, Kathy McCoy; costume designer, Christopher Hargadon; sound, Mike Markiw; assistant director, Lee Cleary; casting, Victoria Thomas, Carmen Kotyk.

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

More Film

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Praise Academy Reversal: 'We Thank You for Your Show of Respect'

    Cinematographers who fought the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations have praised the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for reversing the exclusions. “We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy,” [...]

  • Peter Parker and Miles Morales in

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse' Colored Outside the Lines

    The well-worn superhero genre and one of its best-known icons are unlikely vehicles for creating a visually fresh animated feature. But Sony Pictures Animation’s work on the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” shows throwing out the rule book and letting everyone play in the creative sandbox can pay off big. “I think we [...]

  • Denis Villeneuve

    Denis Villeneuve's 'Dune' Gets November 2020 Release Date

    Warner Bros. has scheduled Legendary’s science-fiction tentpole “Dune” for a Nov. 20, 2020, release in 3D and Imax. “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa is in negotiations to join the “Dune” reboot with Timothee Chalamet, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac, and Zendaya. Production is expected to launch in the spring [...]

  • James Bond Spectre

    Bond 25 Moved Back Two Months to April 2020

    James Bond will arrive two months later than planned as MGM moved back the release date on the untitled Bond 25 movie from Feb. 14 to April 8, 2020 — a Wednesday before the start of Easter weekend. It’s the second delay for Bond 25. MGM and Eon originally announced in 2017 that the film [...]

  • Fast and Furious 8

    'Fast and Furious 9' Release Date Pushed Back Six Weeks

    Universal Pictures has shifted “Fast and Furious 9” back six weeks from April 10 to May 22, 2020 — the start of the Memorial Day weekend. It’s the second backwards shift for the title. In 2017, Universal moved the film back a year from April 19, 2019, to April 10, 2020. Both dates fall on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content