We just spent a month celebrating Westerns that color outside the lines of how we typically identify the genre. But the further we get from the Western’s heyday, the more infrequent straight-ahead Westerns have become. Sometimes you just want to watch a regular old Western do it’s regular old thing.
People looking for that will find a lot to enjoy with Forsaken, which is about as standard a Western as you could ask for. That’s not a demerit, either. The film is good, but it is very much written by genre tropes. If we had a TV show out there simply titled Western! this could easily be its pilot.
Kiefer Sutherland stars as John Henry Clayton, an ex-soldier who instead of coming back home after the Civil War fell into a life of gunslinging, creating a somewhat notorious name for himself in the process. A recent tragedy convinces him to retire his guns and move home in hopes of a peaceful life. Unfortunately, his home has been overrun by an evil land grabber with a posse full of killers. So, you know, those guns probably won’t be put away for long.
Clayton has people waiting for him at home, most notably his pious and strict father, Rev. Clayton, who happens to be played by Donald Sutherland. This seems like cute stunt casting at first, but the film’s latter half commits to a pair of highly emotional scenes that manage to make this father-son pairing far more meaningful than it would have been otherwise. For the most part, however, the Sutherland duo’s performances are one-note. Kiefer talks through husky whispers. Donald puts forth his moral superiority with a curt, aristocratic speaking pattern. Nevertheless, the film is just as much about their bonding as it is about whether or not Clayton will rid his town of murderers. This adds to tension as Rev. Clayton’s severe pacifism make both goals mutually exclusive.
Meanwhile, we also have Demi Moore, as the beautiful small town girl Clayton left behind years and years ago. Having settled down and married a good man, there’s not much hope the two will hook up, and the little time spent on this plot, while mired in melancholy, brings out the brighter notes in Sutherland’s performance. Moore doesn’t really fit into this setting organically, but she’s good enough to make you wonder why she doesn’t work more.
Speaking of someone who I wish we saw more, Michael Wincott appears for a sizable role as the hired killer in charge of the town’s wild and foolish henchmen. Wincott never stopped working; he just stopped working on things most people see, and he’s easily the best part of this film. Smart, violent only when absolutely necessary, and respectful of Clayton’s fame for killing, Wincott provides one of my favorite Western trope characters with befitting gravitas and magnetism.
Add in Brian Cox as the primary antagonist, who’s unfortunately saddled with an unconvincing character tic in which he overuses the word “fuck” for some reason, and you have a remarkable cast for what’s largely a VOD genre exercise. This is a song you’ve heard a million times before, but the singers are good. The filmmaking is unambitious yet totally serviceable. Forsaken, just like its title, may be somewhat rote and generic, but it gets the job done without making any horrible missteps.