Kiefer and Donald Sutherland share the screen in this brooding western about an embittered gunslinger who attempts to make amends with his estranged father whilst their community is besieged by ruthless land-grabbers.
I have long been an admirer of father and son acting duo, Donald and Kiefer Sutherland. Many of today’s younger generation will undoubtedly recognize Sutherland Sr. as the maniacal and tyrannical President Snow in “The Hunger Games” series, and Sutherland Jr. as brooding and bad-tempered Jack Bauer from the hit TV show, “24.” This is the first time father and son have appeared together onscreen in a movie and I’m delighted to report that it does not disappoint.
Kiefer plays John Clayton, a man who has known nothing but violence his entire life and after accidentally shooting a young boy in a gun fight, he loses the urge to kill and decides to return home to his aging parents. Unbeknownst to him, in the time he has been gone, his mother has passed away, leaving his cantankerous and irritable father, Reverend William Clayton, on his own. Initially, neither man can stand to be around one another, with William blaming his son for his mother’s death, claiming that had he come home more often, she would not have worried about him so much and he would have at least had the opportunity to say goodbye before her death, and John blaming his father for never having been particularly close with him, always keeping him at arm’s length as a child.
William’s biggest fear is that John might take up his guns again at the first sign of trouble but when the two men travel into town for supplies, and John is beaten senseless by local thugs, never once contemplating his guns, William’s faith in him gradually builds. A dying request of his mother’s was for both men to clear a particular area of their property, filled with overgrown trees and bushes, in the hopes that both men could bond over such a laborious job but with William still dubious to his son’s exact plans for the future, he continually holds off, allowing John to suffer and sweat in the scorching sun.
Soon thereafter, John meets an old flame, Mary-Alice Watson (Demi Moore) where they both reminisce about old times but she quickly informs him that she is married and has a child. When she tells John that a gang, headed by the ruthless James McCurdy (Brian Cox), is terrorizing the locals, her family included, with threats of violence unless they sign over their land to him, John does his very best to steer clear but when the men decide to make it personal, attacking his father and leaving him for dead, John has no choice but to put his guns back on and make his way into town, to confront the gang members, one by one.
Westerns are the most appropriate genre setting for stories about revenge. From Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” to Tarantino’s latest, “The Hateful Eight,” the wild west obviously got its name for a reason. While we have seen the entire plot of “Forsaken” in other movie iterations and also on TV, the film works largely because of the sheer screen presence of not one, but two Sutherlands. Both men play wonderfully off each other and the fact that they are father and son in real life, and that you can see the similarities between them in almost everything they do, both physically and emotionally, makes the movie even more believable.
Director Jon Cassar, who helped create and direct many episodes of “24,” and who knows Kiefer Sutherland probably better than most other directors, draws outstanding, nuanced performances from both men. One scene in particular, has John returning to his father’s church having been away for many years and after the congregation has left, leaving both men by themselves, he begins to tell his father about an incident where in the midst of a shootout, he accidentally killed a young boy in the ensuing crossfire. Because he had kept this pain to himself for many years and told nobody about it, he completely breaks down and his father does what any good father would do in that situation, he cradles him in his arms as if he were a little boy and holds him close. The scene had me tearing up and because of the raw emotion involved, my respect for both actors was immediately elevated. Both Sutherlands are renowned mainly for their macho, hard-nosed roles but in “Forsaken,” they both get the opportunity to truly emote, and prove that they are capable of so much more. Highly recommended.
Available on Blu-ray & DVD March 29th
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