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Kiefer Sutherland makes an entrance in Forsaken.

Somewhat illogically, I think that Forsaken would have been better if it had been made 25 years ago with the same cast of actors. It certainly would have gotten more exposure. Set in 1872, this low-budget Western stars Kiefer Sutherland as John Henry Clayton, a Civil War veteran who’s only now returning to his hometown in rural Wyoming, where his father, the Rev. Samuel Clayton (Donald Sutherland), gives him a frosty greeting: “Your mother is dead.” In short order, John Henry finds himself drawn into a familiar Western plot, in which a railroad baron named McCurdy (Brian Cox) has hired a bunch of bad guys to intimidate the local farmers into selling him their land. While John Henry has vowed to put his violent past behind him, you know he won’t succeed, mostly because there’ll be no movie if he does.

That’s not the only issue here. The main selling point is that this is the first film where Sutherland père and fils have worked together, let alone played father and son, but not much comes of their portrayal of a parent and child trying to repair a strained relationship. Nor does John Henry’s awkward reunion with his former fiancée (played by Demi Moore, a member of Hollywood’s 1980s Brat Pack that Kiefer was also on the fringes of) who’s now married to another man strike any sparks. Kiefer projects John Henry’s grim determination — it’s pretty much the only thing he’s ever done consistently well as an actor — but he’s out of his depth when it comes to portraying a man haunted by a violent act of his that left an innocent person dead. The revelation itself is hackneyed, too, and so heavily foreshadowed by the opening shot that it comes as no surprise. Maltese director Jon Cassar (he’s from the Mediterranean island nation; he’s not a small white dog) is a veteran of myriad episodes of 24, and he does all right by the final shootout but fails to bring any distinction to the rest of it. The filmmaking is sloppy enough that the former friendship between the preacher and McCurdy is briefly alluded to once and then never brought up again.

The only point of mild interest is the character of Gentleman Dave (Michael Wincott), a dapper dandy hired to be McCurdy’s chief gunslinger. Despite his position, he feels sympathy with John Henry as a fellow war veteran and exudes distaste for the enterprise that he’s become a part of. He even goes so far as to kill one of his own guys for shooting a farmer without permission. The gravel-voiced Wincott seems like an odd fit for a foppish role like this one, but he makes it work. The way that John Henry and Gentleman Dave finesse their way out of a deadly confrontation is fairly clever. If only it were worth sitting through the rest of Forsaken for.

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[box_info]Forsaken
Starring Kiefer and Donald Sutherland. Directed by Jon Cassar. Written by Brad Mirman. Rated R.[/box_info]

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