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Real-life father/son duo Donald and Kiefer Sutherland play those roles in this conventional but nicely constructed Western from director Jon Cassar. John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland) returns home after many years away playing on the wrong side of the law and finds father William Clayton (Donald Sutherland) bitter and widowed. As the pair slowly mends their relationship, a brutal gang of outlaws, encouraged by James McCurdy (Brian Cox), terrorizes the small frontier town. Demi Moore plays John Henry's former love interest, Mary Alice Watson, and Michael Wincott and Aaron Poole are excellent as gunslingers under McCurdy's thumb. Superbly acted and handsomely shot, with cinematography from Rene Ohashi, Forsaken may not be terribly original, but it is a pleasing addition to the genre.
John Henry went to war and did not return for ten years. When he does, his mother is dead and his father resents him. John Henry tumbled after the accidental death of his young brother, and moved onto less honorable combat after his tenure in the Civil War. Back home in Wyoming, his devout father mourns his wife and bristles at John Henry's move toward redemption. Land baron McCurdy forces townsmen to sell their homes for pennies on the dollar, and encourages these transactions with threats from his goons. There may not be honor among thieves, but Wincott's calculating "Gentleman" Dave Turner is positively pious compared to Poole's Frank Tillman, who instantly takes to chastising John Henry in hopes of awakening the sleeping fighter he tried to bury. Moore's Mary Alice quietly demands a reason she was forsaken by John Henry, while her husband (Greg Ellis) grows increasingly wary of John Henry's involvement in their lives.
Cassar, a regular director on Kiefer Sutherland's "24," crafts a lean, 89-minute Western with trappings of Unforgiven and Donald Sutherland's own Ordinary People. That Forsaken borrows from other genre outings is not unexpected, and Cassar keeps his film relatively sparse and to-the-point. The film reveals the source of the father/son conflict: the death of John Henry's young brother. John Henry believes William blames and hates him for it, and a fallen youth again haunts John Henry in his later exploits, causing him to lose faith in a higher power. The unseen matriarch wanted her men to mend wounds, but she did not live to see it happen. It does, slowly, as the Clayton men become acutely aware of McCurdy's brutal hold over their town.
The Sutherlands are excellent, and they act together in a non-gimmicky way that benefits the film. Cox is given some silver-tongued rhetoric, and his antagonist is compellingly slimy and without morals. Wincott's Turner spars with John Henry using words, while Poole's Tillman makes him clean spilled whiskey off his boots. He is McCurdy's attack dog, unleashed and acting out. The redemption story and gun-battle finale are not terribly original, but they play out in a satisfying, almost comforting, manner. Forsaken is not going down as a genre classic, but it is certainly a nice continuation of the Western legacy.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer presents this digitally sourced image with plenty of fine-object detail and texture. There is a somewhat smooth appearance throughout, and I'm not sure the digital photography complements the setting here. Skin tones are accurate and colors are nicely saturated. Some wide shots suffer from slight compression artifacts, but close-ups reveal intimate facial features. I spotted some digital noise and crushed blacks, and pans are somewhat blurry.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is immersive. During the action bits, combat sounds pan the sound field. The subwoofer supports the crack of gunfire, and ambient noise also makes use of the surrounds. Dialogue is clear and unfettered, and is balanced nicely with effects and score. English SDH subtitles are included.
The only extra is a short Making-Of Featurette (11:32/HD) with cast and crew interviews.
Donald and Kiefer Sutherland play well together in Forsaken, an entertaining, if familiar, Western. The younger Sutherland plays a veteran who returns home to Wyoming after many years wandering on the wrong side of the law. He reunites with his father, played by the elder Sutherland, as a gang of outlaws takes root in town and threatens his newly peaceful lifestyle. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.