In 1872, John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland) retires as a gunfighter and returns to his hometown of Fowler, Wyoming in hope of repairing his relationship with his estranged father, Reverend Clayton (Donald Sutherland). However, he soon learns that the town is in turmoil, as the railroad will be coming through the area and a criminal gang is terrorizing ranchers who refuse to sell their land. John Henry is the only one who can stop them, but his father does not want his son to return to a life of violence.
'Forsaken', which could just as easily be called 'Jack Bauer Goes West', features the former 24 star teaming up with his frequent TV director Jon Cassar to tell the story of a young man returning home after the Civil War trying to put his gun-slinging days behind him. But as is the case with most Westerns of this type, there are some bad guys hanging around who just aren't going to let him do that.
Kiefer Sutherland plays John Henry Clayton, who returns to his childhood home to greet his father, Rev. William Clayton (played by Kiefer's real-life father, Donald Sutherland) and to learn that his mother has passed away while he was gone. Not only has Sutherland been away fighting in the war between the states, he's also apparently spent time as a hired gun – something his estranged father is less than pleased about. However, an event has occurred (which is shown in the movie's opening sequence) that leaves John Henry with the desire to end his outlaw ways...in fact, he's taken to not carrying his guns around at all anymore.
A trip into town reveals just how difficult it's going to be for John Henry to become a pacifist. While there, he encounters another hired gun, 'Gentleman' Dave Turner (played by Michael Wincott, who also did a stint on '24'), who is under the employ of James McCurdy (Brian Cox) – a man who is trying to take over many of the locals' farmland for use by the railroad. Those who don't cooperate with McCurdy are taken care of by Turner and his men – in particular, the dastardly Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole), who shoots first and asks questions later. It isn't long, of course, before John Henry realizes that he's going to have to take up arms once again to solve the town's problems – much to the dismay of his father.
As mentioned a number of times on the behind-the-scenes extra that comes with this release, the big appeal of 'Forsaken' is the chance to see Kiefer Sutherland and Donald Sutherland act together in a movie. Although both actors appeared in 1983's 'Max Dugan Returns' and 1996's A Time to Kill, neither of those movies had them sharing scenes together. Here, the movie has the two men sharing a significant amount of screen time, and they're wonderful to watch. It makes one wonder what took so long for these two actors to team up, and hopefully 'Forsaken' won't be the only time we get to see father and son together in a movie.
However, while it's fun to see Kiefer and Donald together, the story here is both familiar and predictable. This is a "classic" Western in the truest sense of the term, meaning there's no ambiguity here – the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad, with the possible exception of Michael Wincott's character, whose loyalties seem to shift according to whomever is paying him for his skills. The movie even tries to throw in a romance, as a long-ago love of John Henry's – played by Demi Moore – comes back into his life, although she's gotten married to another while he was away. Of course, there's nothing wrong with taking an old fashioned approach to the story, but it also results in 'Forsaken's biggest problem: we've seen all this before. So for as good as some of the acting is at times, the movie offers no real surprises as it unfolds.
Make no mistake, fans of both (or either) Kiefer and Donald are most likely really going to enjoy 'Forsaken'. Neither of the men phone-in their performances, and Kiefer in particular does a good job in the father/son sequences. So despite the fact that this Western doesn't break any new ground, it's certainly something fans of the genre or the actors will want to take a look at.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Forsaken' moseys its way onto Blu-ray in a standard keepcase which has one of those flaps you have to flip up on the side in order to open the case. The case contains no inserts – just the single-layer 25GB Blu-ray disc. The disc is front-loaded with trailers for Diablo, 'Bleeding Heart', and The Wannabe. The main menu consists of a montage of footage from the movie, with menu selections running horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is Region A locked.
'Forsaken' was shot on the Arri Alexa HS and is presented on Blu-ray in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. I have to confess that, although 'Forsaken' is obviously not the first Western shot digitally, the genre really doesn't come off well this way. Westerns seem to beg to be shot on film, and the sharpness and depth of the image here gives the movie a very 'made-for-television' look to it. The colors here are really oversaturated, not quite to the point of bleeding or blow-out, but pretty close. Even with the color boost, the scenes vary in tone – some are remarkably 'warm', while others are just as equally 'cool' in presentation. The image also suffers from a good deal of aliasing, which can be seen most notably during pans across stationary buildings, fences, etc.
Black levels and/or noise is less of an issue, primarily because there aren't too many dark scenes in the movie. About the darkest things get are inside the town's saloon, where a hint of noise can be seen creeping into the static backgrounds, but it's never really much of an issue. Despite the over-saturation of the image and the aliasing issues, details are still pretty strong, as are facial features throughout.
The only audio option here is a 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track that more than meets the needs of this movie. There's not a whole lot of action in the movie until the final half hour or so, when the surrounds have some directional fun with the gunshots – having them originate from one speaker or the other, then often sending them off in a random aural direction. For the rest of the time, the rear speakers are primarily used for other ambient noises – like the chirping of birds or the sounds of horse hooves as they pass by. The majority of the dialogue is front and center.
While nothing that approaches reference quality, this is a well-rendered track that is free from any problematic glitches and provides for a pleasant listen.
Subtitles are available in English SDH.
While nothing groundbreaking, 'Forsaken' has a number of things going for it, first and foremost being a solid – if unremarkable and unoriginal – Western. Perhaps more notably, it's also the first on-screen pairing of real-life father and son Donald and Kiefer Sutherland. The acting is decent, the movie is competently shot, and while it may not warrant a purchase, it's certainly worth a look.