Kiefer Sutherland, left, stars as John Henry Clayton and Donald Sutherland as the Rev. William Clayton in the western "Forsaken," a Momentum Pictures release.
Those old enough to remember the heyday of Hollywood westerns may find director Jon Cassar's "Forsaken" an entertaining bit of nostalgia, even if its central storyline doesn't blaze a path into fresh territory.
My generation came along toward the tail end of that era in cinematic history, with the popularity of the western genre slowly fading in the late 1960s and 1970s. While fewer and fewer big budget movies reached the big screen in the 1980s, all those classics still reached an audience on television.
In the last few years, the genre seems to be enjoying a renaissance. Over the last six months alone, films such as "The Hateful Eight," "Bone Tomahawk" and "The Revenant" have found success at the box office. Later this year, moviegoers will see even more action and adventure set in 19th century America, with films such as "Jane Got a Gun," "The Free State of Jones" and "In the Valley of Violence."
"Forsaken" joins the posse, coming to select theaters and video on demand Feb. 19.
Set in 1872, "Forsaken" follows John Henry Clayton as he returns to his family's home for the first time since leaving to fight in the Civil War. After the war, he spent a number of years as a righteous gunfighter haunted by the horrors of the battlefield. John Henry returns to Fowler, Wyoming, hoping to reconnect with his estranged father, the Rev. William Clayton.
At the opening of the film, John Henry has abandoned his guns and wishes to avoid violence. He is trying to outrun his very nature.
His father expresses his disappointment in John Henry's deeds and questions his resolve to live a peaceful life. John Henry's determination is immediately challenged as he learns that the town is in turmoil.
The railroad is coming through the area. A cutthroat businessman has hired a gang of outlaws to terrorize the local ranchers into selling their land.
OK - the premise is not exactly a novel idea. That scenario has been the jumping-off point for a few westerns. Nor is it unusual to introduce into such a situation a character who has recently renounced violence.
Despite the familiar set-up, "Forsaken" still manages to invoke plenty of anticipation as viewers wait to see how far the bad guys will push John Henry before he finally reaches his breaking point. More than that, the film puts equal emphasis on exploring the tension between father and son, delving into the events that caused the rift between them.
It doesn't hurt that the actors tasked with plumbing those emotional depths have an off-screen familiar bond.
Kiefer Sutherland portrays John Henry and Donald Sutherland plays the Rev. William Clayton. The strong performance of these two actors - father and son both on and off screen - enriches the emotional scope of "Forsaken" and enhances an otherwise mundane storyline.
The cast has other diamonds, too.
Demi Moore plays Mary Alice, John Henry's former sweetheart. When he failed to return from the war, she married another man and started a family. Moore's supporting role helps shed light on the more shadowy spots of John Henry's personality and makes him more sympathetic to the audience.
Even more outstanding in a supporting role is Michael Wincott as the chivalrous hired gunslinger Gentleman Dave Turner. What a surprise seeing the actor who portrayed the lecherous Top Dollar in 1994's "The Crow" featured in a western role that evokes Michael Biehn's depiction of Johnny Ringo in 1993's "Tombstone."
In terms of plot, "Forsaken" doesn't break new ground as a traditional western. It earns its worth in its thorough study of the relationship between a war-scarred son and a virtuous father opposed to all forms of violence. Through solid performances, the Sutherlands successfully illustrate how difficult it can be to bridge ideological gaps, particularly when the rift separates loved ones.