With a heavy air of "wait, haven't we seen this before?" running through it's veins, Forsaken isn't anything original. With exceptional performances from real life father and son duo Donald and Kiefer Sutherland saving a good portion of the film, the rest is left to fall into the realm of the 'regrettably forgettable'.
Forsaken looks like a terrible western on the outskirts. Beaten up, worn down gunslinger returns home longing to put down the guns only to find there are still bad guys reigning over his home town. Will he put down the guns for good or pick them up for one last act of heroism? What in the world happens next? Of course, you can probably all guess what happens next. Forsaken is, no doubt, unoriginal. Having the appearance of a churned out, albeit very well made, B-Western of the 1950s and 60s, Forsaken’s small moments of depth, meaning and thematic artistry move the film inches over to the realm of ‘pleasant surprise’, however predictable and tedious a great deal of the 105-minute run time becomes.
The real stand-out element of Forsaken, however, is father and son duo Donald Sutherland and Kiefer Sutherland who play father and son duo Reverend William Clayton and John Henry Clayton. And boy, do they play them well. Sutherland the senior expertly plays the town’s Reverend with the expertise of a veteran actor who literally has done it all, whilst Sutherland the junior revels in his character of John Henry. Having honed his skills over eight seasons of 24, the handsome grit of the retired gunslinger being a fitting role. The on screen chemistry of the pair is astonishing. It’s not often we are treated to a real life father and son playing a scripted father and son, and the times we do see chemistry has always seemed a little forced, ironically. Forsaken seems to be the exception to the rule, though, with the Sutherlands expertly creating a chemistry unmistakable as genuine, complex and adoring. Take notes, After Earth.
And with a somewhat interesting premise which at least doesn’t pretend to be too original, it’s really a shame that at its core it just feels a little empty. Troubles with pacing and a climax which could do with just a little more oomph drag the film down several levels; a little less “oh wait, this is the climax?” could have saved it but alas, the script was with the characters, not the story.
Any interest the film cultivates at the beginning (indeed the beginning is somewhat captivating), it loses, like a bullet through a horse trough, as things take a turn for the predictable. And then another turn, and another, and another, all in the same direction you thought it would because it’s that bloody predictable. It’s a shame that that begins to drain the interest, and it’s a shame that the story wasn’t even nearly good enough to support the outstanding two lead actors who did extremely well to work with it. Perhaps a bit more time spent on the script would have been the film’s salvation.
However, there are a few scenes which save the film from the realm of the completely forgettable. Pulled along only by the strength of the Sunderlands’ sheer talent, one scene depicts an argument between the two when John Henry relays his lost faith in the religion his father lives his life by, and another involves John Henry breaking down whilst he relates the traumatic incident which left him averse to gun violence. These two scenes, among a couple others, are incredibly well written and excellently performed, dragging the film out from the more ‘average’ label – but not enough to save it from it.
You’ll watch Forsaken either wanting to love it or wanting to see something more than it is, perhaps more than it ever could be. You’ll hope for more as it slowly plunders into the world of the ordinary. It doesn’t offer anything spectacular, the script is average, the direction is unexceptional and apart from the two lead performances we aren’t treated at any point. But it’s an enjoyable enough film to put on on a Sunday afternoon. Dare I say it – is the age of the westerns finally over?
Forsaken (2016), directed by Jon Cassar is distributed by Momentum Pictures. Certificate 15.